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Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK

World: Europe

Bitter memories of Battle of Kosovo

Mass was held at 14th century monastery in Gracanica

By Paul Wood in Kosovo

Religious ceremonies have been taking place to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje, but most Serbs are marking the occasion hesitantly, if at all.

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, led a memorial service at a 14th century monastry at Gracanica, before another ceremony at the Kosovo battle site itself, called the Field of Blackbirds.

It is 610 years since a Serbian army was crushed by the forces of the advancing Ottoman Empire.

It is also 10 years since President Slobodan Milosevic used the 600th anniversary of the battle to launch the Serb nationalist project in the old Yugoslavia.

Serbs fear violence

Many Serbs say the security situation is still too fragile for any large gathering. Some fear a bomb attack. Others feel too threatened on the roads to risk travelling.

The inscription on the monument at the Field of Blackbirds, where the battle took place reads: "The Serb who does not fight for Kosovo will be cursed forever".

But there are no Serbian forces remaining in Kosovo to fight, and the Serbs who have stayed are left to plead for protection from the international peacekeeping forces.

On the eve of the anniversary, we went to the funeral of a Serb man shot dead at a petrol station in an argument with an Kosovo Albanian, supposedly a member of the KLA.

Kosovo: Special Report
His relatives said he was surrounded by a group of KLA men, beaten with sticks and an iron bar and then shot four times at close range.

There has been a rash of such killings, sending panic and fear through the Serb communities here.

Serbs are not in the mood to remember 1389, but many feel that the lessons of history - that they can only be safe in their own state - are now being borne out in Kosovo.

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