Local authorities assume protection of Serbian heritage sites in Kosovo

  • 16 May. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 16 May. 2011 18:13

KFOR, the NATO-led peace support force in Kosovo protects, certain Serbian cultural and religious sites which have been repeatedly targeted by extremists. With the security situation in the country becoming more stable, KFOR, in accordance with the decision by NATO’s North Atlantic Council, started in 2010 handing over responsibility for these sites back to the local authorities.

The handover process was agreed for specific monasteries in certain areas. Just north of Decani, the Gorioc Orthodox Monastery has been under the sole responsibility of the Kosovo Police since December 2010. There, two local guards assume the 24/7 protection of four Serbian nuns and two Serbian monks, while the Kosovo Police guard the entrance. This was made possible after they followed a two months’ training with KFOR.

Lieutenant Hasan Ceku, Acting Station Commander at Istog Police Station next to Gorioc, explains: “The primary role of the Kosovo Police is to secure the building and also check and control all the persons that come to visit.”

For Brigadier General Marco Serronha, Deputy Commander of KFOR, the members of Kosovo Police are becoming more and more professional: “Kosovo Police has improved a lot in the last years. Now, they are very keen to try to work with the international standards. Of course, they lack some capability and some capacities in some areas but they are working a lot to overcome that.”

Other monasteries remain under KFOR protection for the time being. This is the case of the Decani monastery, a 14th century orthodox site recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site. KFOR has been assuming the security of the site and the monks living there since 1999. The monastery has been the subject of regular attacks, in particular in 2004 when a number of orthodox religious sites were targeted by extremists.

Twenty-six monks still live at Decani, closeted away for fear of attacks. All agree that KFOR has been of great help to them. “They have been helping us not only in providing security but also providing the conditions for the normal life of the brotherhood”, Brother Andrej says,”so, for example, whenever we needed to buy something or to go somewhere we needed also an armed escort.”

According to Brother Andrej, “the monasteries are often seen by the Albanian majority as some kind of fore post of the Serbian presence here in Kosovo. And therefore, they are the most logical target for some extremists if they want to hurt, perhaps, the Serbian minority.”

However, the Kosovo Police will have to take over security responsibility for the Decani monastery too. “In the future, they have to take care of all the security aspects in the country because KFOR is not going to stay here forever,”  Brigadier General Serronha concludes.