Kouchner makes Christmas plea to Kosovo Serbs

GRACANICA, Serbia, Jan 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) The head of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration celebrated Orthodox Christmas with Serb leaders on Friday and urged them to take part in a power-sharing structure with ethnic Albanians.

U.N. mission chief Bernard Kouchner joined Bishop Artemije, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, and other leaders for a Christmas Day lunch at the mist-shrouded 13th-century Gracanica monastery, south of the capital Pristina.

Kouchner said he hoped the Serbs would accept his invitation to take part in the joint administration along with political leaders from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

"Without them, we can't work and rebuild an administration in Kosovo," the Frenchman told reporters, with Artemije at his side, in a chamber in the monastery's snow-covered grounds.

The Serbs have so far refused to join the new administration, scheduled to be up and running by the end of this month, and have boycotted the main forum for discussion with the U.N. and Albanian leaders for months.

They have demanded the right to run their own local affairs, more security, and an end to the revenge attacks by Albanians angry at years of Serb repression which have plagued the territory since NATO bombing drove out Serb forces last June.

Although U.N. officials and NATO peacekeepers stress the level of violence has declined substantially, the international administration's latest incident report showed how precarious the security situation remains for Kosovo Serbs.

A 39-year-old Serb man was killed by gunshots to the face in the southern city of Prizren on Wednesday evening.

Three Serbs on their way to an Orthodox Christmas Eve church service on Thursday in the town of Lipljan were beaten up and a Serb man was shot in Kosovo Polje near Pristina later that day.

Artemije did not respond directly to Kouchner's appeal for him to join the new administration but sounded hopeful that ties with the U.N. would improve.

"We've proved many times that we are in favor of peace and Mr Kouchner has proved again that he is in favor of peace by coming here for our small celebration," he said.

"I think our cooperation will develop, so that next year we can celebrate this holiday in true peace, full freedom for all citizens of Kosovo and in far better conditions than this year," the bishop told reporters.

Serbs have been the victims of numerous murders, kidnappings and house-burnings over the past six months, prompting many to flee. Yugoslav authorities say they are sheltering more than 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians from Kosovo.

Only a few Serbs, many afraid to even leave their own apartments, remain in many Kosovo cities which were previously home to substantial Serb populations. Artemije said a normal Christmas was impossible for those people this year.

"Without people, there's no solemnity. There's no celebration," he said. "Even if there were some celebrations, they were more sad, like a funeral ceremony, rather than a celebration of the birth of Christ."

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