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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Serbs fleeing Kosovo, Bishop Artemije leaving Prizren

International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, said today that more than 30.000 people, mostly Serbs, have fled Kosovo as Yugoslav troops pull out of the Serbian province and NATO-led peacekeeping forces deploy. "With the beginning of the withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces and the deployment of an international security force in Kosovo, an estimated 24,000 internally displaced people -- mainly of Serb but also of Montenegrin and Roma origin -- have crossed into other parts of Serbia since June 11, while another 9,000 have headed for the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro" said the organization's statement. Some sources inside Serbia are claiming the figures are much higher, up to 80.000. Witnesses reported columns of refugees heading for Belgrade were several kilometres long. Serb opposition politicians and religious leaders are pleading with Serbs to halt their flight from Kosovo, fearing the province they have called their heartland for centuries could soon be emptied of them. The main opposition Democratic Party on Wednesday appealed for immediate local and international assistance for the refugees stuck in Serbia's towns and along roads. "The Democratic Party is appalled by the fact that authorities are doing nothing to accommodate nearly 50,000 Serb refugees on Serbia's roads" the party said in a statement. "These people have been left on their own". There are reports that Serbian police is baning Serb refugees from Kosovo to enter into Belgrade. United Nations reportee for human rights, Jiri Dinstbir, said large numbers of Serbs fleeing Kosovo could start the news humanitarian catastrophe. He added that NATO had to disarm KLA according to the UN resolution, or there would be more than 200.000 Serb refugees from Kosovo. "That would be the defeat of NATO humanitarian activity in Balkans", he said. The commander of NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo made a appeal to Serbs not to leave on Wednesday in Kosovo Polje, site of famed ancient battle between Serbs and Turks. "We believe the world has too many refugees already. I beg you not to make the number any greater. Stay at home and we will look after you", he said to several hundred Serb villagers. "I ask you most seriously to stay in your homes in Kosovo. Soon I hope that high emotions will come down and together we may all build a better life.". Some witnesses said Jackson's speech received an applause from villagers. Serbian state controlled media mostly ignore refugee problem. There are no reports on Kosovo Serbs fleeing Kosovo on Serb state TV (RTS). Serbian officials rarely talk about Serb refugees. One exception was Serbian minister for refugees Bratislava Morina who called on the Serbs, who made up almost to "trust their own state" and stay. "I hope that all those who have left Kosovo will return to their homes as soon as KFOR takes its positions" she added. The fleeing Serbs fear reprisals from ethnic Albanians. Most of them burned their own houses before they left. The Serbian Orthodox Church issued a statement on Tuesday expressing concern at the recent exodus of Serbs from Kosovo - considered the cradle of the Serb nation and its spirituality. The church's Holy Synod urged international peacekeeping forces in Kosovo to provide equal protection to the Serbs, ethnic Albanians and other ethnic groups. It requested protection of Orthodox monasteries and holy sites in Kosovo. One of the Church's officials, Bishop Artemije, the religious leader of Kosovo's Serbs, said he is leaving his monastery in Prizren because it's not safe for him there. Bishop Artemije, who has made several calls to the government not to abandon the Serbs in Kosovo, said he would leave for Pristina with nine priests and over 200 Serbs who took refuge in his monastery after armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldiers began patrolling the streets. He also said that he is not leaving Prizren for good, "but only to be safe until KFOR can guarantee a safe life here" he told British news agency Reuters. "Serb people who leave will only return when KFOR can impose order here and demilitarise the KLA." Ortodox Monastery of Holy Three in Mususiste, near Prizren were burned to the ground, church officials said to Serbian indenpendent news agency Beta. "That's what we were afraid of. We were afraid that Albanian extremist will rage over our holy sites, that are now unprotected", said Slobodan Mileusnic, manager of Serbian Ortodox Church's Museum. Some Serbs and Montenegrins who already fled Kosovo now considers return to Serbia's southern province. Montenegrin indenpendant Montena-fax agency, reported that on Tuesday evening, more than hundred Serb and Montenegrin refugees gathered in Berane, town in northeast Montenegro, and held a meeting where they were appealed to return to Kosovo. Refugees agreed to return to Kosovo in organized manner.

Source: Free Serbia

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