GRACANICA, Serbia (AP)--Serbs will never give up Kosovo, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Wednesday after arriving in Kosovo to mark the anniversary of an epic battle against Ottoman forces.
Security measures were high for the visit of Kostunica, who was attending ceremonies marking Vidovdan, or St. Vitus Day - the anniversary of the 1389 battle in which a Christian army led by Serbian Prince Lazar was defeated in Kosovo by invading Ottoman forces.
The battle came to symbolize Serbs' historic resolve not to give up Kosovo, the heartland of their statehood and religion.
"There is no better place...to repeat what every Serbian has to know: Kosovo has been and will always remain part of Serbia," said Kostunica, triggering applause and chanting from large crowds in the grounds of a 14th century monastery in Gracanica, a Serb enclave in Kosovo heavily protected by North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeepers.
Kostunica urged the dwindling Serb community to remain determined and unified at a time when Serbs and ethnic Albanians are conducting U.N.-sponsored talks on Kosovo's future.
Kosovo, which officially remains part of Serbia, has been administered by the U.N. and patrolled by international peacekeepers since mid-1999, when a NATO air war halted a crackdown by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's forces on separatist ethnic Albanians.
The province's ethnic Albanian majority wants full independence, but Belgrade insists it retain control.
Tension and occasional violence persists between ethnic Albanians and the minority Serbs, who live in heavily guarded and isolated enclaves.
"We would not be able to pray today if it was not for the army's protection," he said.
Kosovo special police arrested 116 ethnic Albanian protesters who blocked roads linking Kosovo to the rest of Serbia in a bid to prevent the visit. Among those arrested was a member of Kosovo's parliament.
Many of the arrested protesters were members of an ethnic Albanian group calling itself "Self-determination," which described Kostunica's visit as "a provocation."
The group compared the trip to a 1989 visit by Milosevic, who used the St. Vitus Day anniversary to deliver a speech that whipped up Serb nationalist fervor. The event was seen as key in events that led to disintegration of Yugoslavia and a decade of Balkan wars.
An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Kosovo's 1998-99 war. Afterward, tens of thousands of Serbs fled the province due to reprisal attacks and threats from ethnic Albanians.