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Interview with Bishop Artemije

David Brunnstrom

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BRUSSELS, Feb 2 (Reuters) - A U.N. plan for the future of Kosovo will never be accepted by the Serb minority or Serbia, the head of the Serb Orthodox Church in Kosovo said on Friday.

Bishop Artemije told Reuters an imposed solution for the province would destabilise the Balkan region and boost calls for independence in other parts of Europe.

"The proposal is unacceptable to us because it presupposes the separation of Kosovo from Serbia and as such will never be accepted either by the Kosovo Serbs nor the Serbian state," the spiritual leader of Kosovo's Serb minority said.

"Only a solution found through talks and compromise can be a lasting solution," Artemije, speaking through an interpreter, said in an interview after meeting EU Special Representative to Kosovo Stefan Lehne in Brussels.

The bishop spoke as U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari handed over his plan to set Kosovo on a path to independence to Serb authorities. Ahtisaari was to travel to Kosovo's capital, Pristina, later on Friday.

Asked if he was confident Russia would continue to oppose any attempt to impose a solution for Kosovo through the U.N. Security Council, Artemije said: "If Serbia sticks firmly to its position, we are absolutely sure that Russia will do the same."

"If the international community imposes a solution it will not bring peace and stability to the region, but rather it will destabilise the region."

Asked how he would advise his congregation, he said: "We cannot resist physically, but what we can do is not accept it."

GHETTOISED MINORITY

Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since 1999 when 11 weeks of bombing by NATO forced the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces, accused of killing 10,000 Albanians during a counter-insurgency war.

Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs are a ghettoised minority who saw thousands of their kin flee a wave of revenge attacks with the end of the 1998-99 Kosovo Albanian war for independence.

Rich in Orthodox religious heritage, the province of two million people holds almost mythic status for Serbs, their so-called cradle stretching back 1,000 years.

"We believe the future of the Serb community in Kosovo will be rather grim," Artemije said. "Under the U.N. administration, the situation has been quite tragic for the Serb population and we do not believe it will improve in an independent Kosovo."

He said Kosovo Albanians had used violence and threats to back their claim for independence.

"Once more they are threatening violence if they do not get what they want...The international community must stop any violence and has an obligation to do so."

Artemije warned separating Kosovo from Serbia would start a "domino effect", convincing advocates for independence elsewhere in Europe that terror could be used to achieve political goals.

He produced a map from his black robes showing more than 20 independence movements from Ireland to Spain, to Georgia and Russia. Attached was an open letter headed "Sober up, Europe!"

"If you succeed to forcibly separate Kosovo from Serbia, a sovereign and democratic European country, start thinking about what Europe will look like in ten years from now," he wrote.

Read the entire article on the The Diocese of Ras-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-Feb-07



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