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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Disputes wreck Kosovo monuments
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Kosovo

Church of the Holy Virgin of Ljeviska in Prizren
Churches were vandalised during last year's rioting
Potential donors attending a conference in Paris on Friday are being asked for money to help restore the cultural heritage of Kosovo.

At the top of the list are Serbian Orthodox churches targeted by ethnic Albanian mobs during three days of bloody rioting in the province in 2004.

But reconstruction has been held up by the Church's refusal to participate.

Except for raindrops falling from its ceiling, the Church of the Holy Virgin of Ljeviska in Prizren is silent.

The bell has not rung for more than a year; not since ethnic Albanian extremists arrived in March 2004 and set fire to the church.

The UN's global heritage organisation, Unesco, described it as "an unpardonable act of vandalism against one of the most important medieval monuments in the Balkans.''

It will cost $4m (2.1m or 3.1m euros) to repair, and this is just one example of many. The Serbian Orthodox Church says more than 80 of its monuments have been damaged since the war in 1999, but the figures are disputed.

Better relations

Unesco says that 75 monuments are in need of urgent restoration in Kosovo, 48 of them Serbian Orthodox. Another 14 are in fact Islamic, says Unesco, and they date back to the time when Kosovo was part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

Some representatives of the Kosovo government incited the riots, and that is something which is very sad
Father Sava,
Decani Monastery

Raising the money for the Orthodox heritage is one thing, but getting the Serbian clergy to co-operate with the Kosovo government in the reconstruction has been much more difficult.

The head of the Church in Kosovo, Bishop Artemije, has been the biggest obstacle, though in recent months his colleagues have tried discreetly to sideline him in an attempt to push things along.

To visit Decani Monastery in the west of Kosovo, you have to pass through a heavily armoured K-For checkpoint. Inside, French peacekeepers are buying bottles of the monks' home-made wine as souvenirs, while Father Sava tells me that relations with the Kosovo government have begun to improve.

But there is lingering distrust when he says that "unfortunately, the Kosovo institutions during the March riots last year did not play a very constructive role".

"On the contrary," he says, "some representatives of the Kosovo government incited the riots, and that is something which is very sad.''

Withdrawal plans

In turn, senior sources in the Kosovo government have told the BBC that they believe the Serbian Orthodox Church has tried to keep the monuments in ruins for as long as possible - as a visual reminder to the international community of what Albanian extremists are capable of.

Sign on building
Government money has been made available for renovation

The province's environment minister, Ardian Gjini, says: "The Kosovo government allocated the money, the UN mission was ready to start the work, but the Orthodox Church wasn't ready for a deal with the government and the UN.''

In just a few months' time, negotiations are expected to begin on the final status of Kosovo. It may soon gain independence from Serbia.

The United Nations Mission in Kosovo has made no secret of its desire to withdraw as much as possible, as soon as possible.

But on one thing both the Church and the Kosovo government agree: these examples of cultural heritage will need the protection of foreign peacekeepers for many years to come.

Kosovo parliament elects new PM
23 Mar 05 |  Europe
Serbian church sues over Kosovo
09 Dec 04 |  Europe

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