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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK

World: Europe

Saved by the monks of Decani

The brothers will now be praying for the fleeing local Serbs

By Mark Urban in Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians in the Kosovan village of Decani say they owe their lives to the humanity and courage of the local Serb Orthodox monks.

The BBC's Mark Urban meets the monks who acted out of faith
Their near escape from the hands of the Serbs came 10 days ago when gangs of paramilitaries descended on the villages near Pec, demanding money and threatening to kill those that had nothing.

Kosovo: Special Report
The monks, foreseeing tragic consequences, provided the villagers with sanctuary in the local church - an act which saved their lives. For the 21 monks, it was a religious obligation.

"We helped them in the best way we could. We gave them food, medicine, moral support," said the abbot.

Now there are only 300 ethnic Albanians left in the village, a third of the total pre-war population.

Those that have remained only came out of hiding on Wednesday after months in hiding.

Saving grace

For Agim Morani, the abbott's presence was a saving grace in a village where the Serb nationalist slogans daubed on the buildings testify to the level of ethnic hatred.

[ image: The Abbott believes they acted out of religious obligation]
The Abbott believes they acted out of religious obligation
"Three paras came, put guns to our heads and came looking for money," said Mr Morani.

"The abbot came because he knew the Serbs would start killing people. He took us to the church and then came back for the others. If he hadn't come it is 100 per cent certain that we would be dead," he added.

But the bruises that still remain on Mr Morani's wife are a painful reminder of how she was beaten up and robbed of all her jewellery.

[ image: Bruised and robbed by Serb paramilitaries]
Bruised and robbed by Serb paramilitaries
The Abbott believes there has never been a worse time here but feels that faith will ensure that the monks remain.

He feels that the Serb slogans are just a mask, a disguise to do what they wanted. "It has nothing to do with Serb nationalism," maintains the abbott.

But the danger is not over. With the Serbs fleeing from the area, and the continued tension of ethnic hatred hanging heavy in the air, the monastery is now being guarded by armed K-For soldiers.

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