Serb bishop cooperating with Nato increasingly isolatedWhen peace is the dangerous path
By Sue Masterman
VIENNA, Austria, April 22 - As Easter approaches, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije and his few remaining monks are under siege in their Kosovo monastery.
Guarded by NATO Kosovo Force, or KFOR, troops, they are beleaguered by Serb extremists threatening to raze their ancient monastery to the ground.
The KFOR guard was ordered after the bishop spoke out for reconciliation between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The Serb National Council, which the bishop leads, decided early this month to stop boycotting the U.N. civilian administration, there ostensibly to bring order and peace to the long-warring ethnic factions.
The group will now participate as observers in the Provisional Administrative Council, run by Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N. mission to Kosovo.
Rage and Fury
The bishops decision provoked rage and fury among Serb hard-liners. They marched on the Gracanica monastery, chanting Kosovo is Serbian, Gracanica is ours.
They threatened to throw the bishop and his monks out bodily and burn the building to the ground rather than let them stay there. Since then, the bishop has been preaching to a very small congregation of his own monks. Other Serbs dare not cross the picket lines.
The hard-liners, mostly from the Serb stronghold of Mitrovica, are being steered directly by Belgrade, Kouchners office says. They have beaten up other members of the SNC after the decision to cooperate with Kouchner.
Yugoslav President Milosevics Serbian Socialist Party and the ultra-nationalist Serb Radical Party, led by Vojislav Seselj, have branded Artemjie the NATO Bishop.
Serbia has based its claim on the province of Kosovo on the many ancient monasteries there, some of which were destroyed during and after the NATO bombing last year.
It says Kosovo is the cradle of Serb civilization, and in large part, the Serbs used that justification to press the persecution of majority ethnic Albanians, leading to the NATO attacks on Serb-led Yugoslavia last year.
The co-operation of the Kosovo church leader with the United Nations which now administers the province and with NATO is seen by Serb hard-liners as the ultimate betrayal.