Thursday, January 06, 2005

Kosovo officials congratulate Serbs on Orthodox Christmas

Kosovo's top U.N. official and its prime minister congratulated the upcoming Orthodox Christmas to the beleaguered Serb minority.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, the head of the U.N. mission in this disputed province, called upon Serbs, who are Orthodox Christian, to use this period to "make special efforts to reach out to all, regardless of their views and backgrounds."

"Christmas commemorates the birth of new hope and I invite Orthodox Christians to embrace the hopes offered in the coming months," he said in a statement.

Christmas falls on Jan. 7 for Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar instead of the 16th-century Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholics and Protestants and commonly used in secular life around the world.

"Let us make use of this period to reflect upon how we can work together to build reconciliation and trust in our society," Jessen-Petersen added.

His wishes reflect the deep mistrust between the two rival communities in Kosovo -- the Christian Orthodox Serbs and predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians. The two remain divided, more than five years since the war here ended. The U.N. mission is navigating the province toward its final statues, which remains disputed. Kosovo's ethnic Albanians want the province to become independent. Serb want it to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, a union that replaced Yugoslavia.

Kosovo was placed under U.N. administration in 1999, following NATO's air war aimed at stopping the Serb forces crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Some ten thousand ethnic Albanians were killed during that war. Since then, tens of thousands of Serbs have fled the province in the face of attacks and threats from ethnic Albanian extremists.

Those that remain, live mainly in isolated enclaves scattered around the province.

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