Anti-Serb Violence in Kosovo Assailed

Death Toll at 31; Orthodox Churches Attacked

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ROME, MARCH 19, 2004 ( Leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have spoken out to condemn the violence taking place against Serbs in Kosovo.

Sixteen Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, many of them treasures of medieval architecture, have been demolished in Kosovo since confrontations broke out Wednesday, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade announced today.

In Pristina, U.N. police and soldiers of the multinational force (KFOR) used tear gas on Thursday night to disperse a group of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo who were setting fire to the Church of St. Nicholas.

According to U.N. sources, violence since Wednesday has left at least 31 dead and some 500 wounded. Hundreds of Serbs have been evacuated by MINUK, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, and by KFOR.

The Greek Orthodox Church expressed its «particular concern» today in regard to the events and said it is prepared to give all its help to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Voices of the Catholic Church have called for a halt to the confrontations. On Vatican Radio, a religious who works in the area and who asked to remain anonymous, appealed for calm.

«Anyway, it must be clarified that the latest confrontations have nothing to do with religion or faith. It is a purely political question,» the religious said.

International Volunteers for Development, a Catholic group present in the area, appealed to the international community to resolve some of the outstanding problems that led to the outbreak of conflict in the late 1990s.

«After five years of Slobodan Milosevic’s Operation Horseshoe and of the NATO bombings over Kosovo and Serbia, the Balkans region is experiencing the revival of confrontations between the two ethnic groups,» said Antonio Raimondi, president of the group.

«This is what happens if after a conflict there is no action taken on the most profound causes,» he added. «It is not enough to guarantee a forced pacification with an international military presence, in Kosovo since 1999 and in Bosnia since 1995. Instead, it is necessary to work to promote social justice and reconciliation, essential elements for a genuine and lasting peace.»

«Kosovo is going through great political and economic uncertainty,» Raimondi said in a statement received by ZENIT. «In fact, the future of the region is still unknown: a region with strong autonomy in the republic of Serbia and Montenegro or independent state. At the economic level, suffice it to recall that unemployment affects 57% of the active population.»

The president of International Volunteers for Development added that when an appeal is made for greater commitment by the international community in the region, especially of Europe, all say that «today there are other priorities: Afghanistan and Iraq.»

He added: «I would like to remind everyone — yes, everyone — of the tragic scenes that were with us in the 1990s.»

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