Monday, April 24, 2006

Kosovo Serb hails Kosovo president's visit to Orthodox monastery

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, April 24, 2006 (AFP) -

A Kosovo Serb leader on Monday welcomed an Easter visit by the region's ethnic Albanian president to the Orthodox Decani monastery, saying it could start a new phase in tense relations between the ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority.

Serbian Orthodox "Bishop Teodosije's decision to admit President (Fatmir) Sejdiu may open a new page in the history of Serb-Albanian relations," Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Serb leader in the province, told AFP.

Sejdiu, together with UN Mission (UNMIK) head Soren Jessen-Petersen and the commander of the NATO-led peacekeepers (KFOR) Giuseppe Valotto on Sunday visited Decani, in the west of the province, and congratulated the clergy on Orthodox Easter.

Sejdiu said the visit, the first of its kind, was an opportunity to convey the message that Kosovo was ready to be an important protector of all historical monuments.

Ivanovic said Bishop Teodosije's decision to meet the president was also a "very courageuous step" considering the Serbian Orthodox Church's official position.

Last week Bishop Artemije, the head of the Church in the disputed UN-run province, had turned down a request by Kosovo's Albanian Prime Minister Agim Ceku to attend its Easter service at the weekend in the monastery of Gracanica, south of Pristina.

Artemije said Ceku's attendance was refused because "many Orthodox churches were burned down in the March 2004 riots" by Kosovo Albanians, including the Church leader's residence in the southern town of Prizren.

Ivanovic did not want to comment on the refusal of Ceku's attendance, but said that "political wisdom prescribes that one who comes with a good will should be admitted."

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since June 1999, after the alliance's air war drove out forces loyal to late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over a crackdown against separatist Albanian rebels.

The relationship between the pro-independence ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority which backs continuing links with Belgrade has remained tense ever since.

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