Kosovo Serbs kept away from anti-violence rally by threat of violence

PRISTINA, Nov 9, 2000 -- (AFP) Members of Kosovo's Serbian minority gathered to pray for peace at an Orthodox monastery Sunday, after missing a "Day against violence" for security reasons, a community spokesman said.

Father Sava Janjic said that Serbian representatives had been warned by "highly placed" UN officials not to attend a rally held in Pristina on Saturday to launch a campaign for tolerance.

But a spokeswoman for UN administrator Bernard Kouchner, said that he had been "very disappointed" that a representative of the Serbian National Council (SNV), Rada Trajkovic, had not come to the rally.

"We heard that Bishop Artemije (president of the SNV) had told her not to come," Susan Manuel said.

For his part, Sava, Artemije's spokesman, said: "From a very high level from the UN mission we were told that it was not safe to be together, it could have been dangerous, there could have been attacks. We listened to the advice.

"We must be aware that people can be killed in the streets because they speak another language."

Around 6,000 Kosovo Albanians packed the center of Pristina Saturday for a rally held as part of a campaign against the political and ethnic violence that has wracked Kosovo since the end of its civil war.

The leaders of Kosovo's Albanian and Serbian communities met in Airlie House, Virginia in July under US auspices to sign a joint declaration in favor of tolerance, but attempts to transform the goodwill into action once the parties returned to Kosovo have been dogged by disagreement.

At Saturday's rally the province's chief UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, provoked a barrage of boos and whistles when he repeated a phrase -- "everyone in Kosovo is equal" -- in Serbian.

Members of Kosovo's Bosniak and Turk minorities addressed the crowd and were well received, but hatred of the Serbs still runs high and a plan to allow moderate Serb leaders to address the rally was abandoned.

"We understood that the day was an opportunity for Kosovo Albanians to express their strong opposition to violence," Sava said, "The Serbs are not able to do anything they have to be patient."

Sava said that Serbs would gather on the first day of every month at the monastery in Gracanica, central Kosovo, to pray for an end to violence.

Hundreds of Serbs have been killed or injured and around 187,000 non-Albanians, 90 percent of them Serbs, have fled Kosovo since Kouchner's UN mission took over the province in June last year, according to the latest figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees.

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