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Serbian Orthodox Defend Church

June 18, 1999

PEC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church came to this western Kosovo city Friday to defend the church’s birthplace, a 14th-century walled monastery where the last remaining Serbs have taken shelter.

To some Serbs, the chalk-colored stone cluster of church buildings tucked away just below the clouds in jagged mountains is what they were fighting for in Kosovo, the base of their faith in the time when Serbs _ and not ethnic Albanians _ made up the main part of Kosovo’s people.

``We will stay until the end. Because who we are, what we are, what we represent, is here,″ Patriarch Pavle told Serbs huddled within the monastery’s walls, fearing retaliation for wartime Serb attacks that all but emptied the city of 100,000 of its ethnic Albanian majority.

Church official, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic, demanded protection from NATO officers, who went back and forth between the monastery and a Kosovo Liberation Army base that appeared overnight in Pec, (pronounced PETCH), 45 miles west of the provincial capital Pristina.

``If you do not disarm the KLA, there will be not one Serb left here tomorrow,″ he told the peacekeepers.

The Serbs’ sense of being wronged, misunderstood and ultimately abandoned in the war was evident everywhere in Pec, the spiritual seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church since 1346.

It was written in blood on the walls of a home in the city’s fire-gutted ethnic Albanian quarter, where residents said Serb forces massacred seven ethnic Albanian civilians on June 12 in a last rampage before leaving western Kosovo.

``NATO Killers,″ the attackers wrote, using a cloth daubed in their victims’ blood, beside a wall sprayed with blood. ``You killed Serbian children.″

``Serb civilians could have stopped this, but they did nothing. They did awful things,″ said Erib Sadiku, an ethnic Albanian, pointing out a mosque destroyed by fire, detailing how the army had taken away his wife, mother and 2-year-old son.

``And you ask us to live together with the Serbs? How can I live with them?″ Sadiku asked.

Above the city, two Italian NATO tanks blocked the road and gates of the church. Cars loaded with luggage of Serb families lined the road.

Other Serbs pulled out en masse over the last week as Serb forces withdrew under the international accord that ended the 2 1/2 month war.

``We could be dead tomorrow!′ one of the townspeople yelled, when NATO officers urged the Serbs inside the monastery to be patient as more troops pour into the city, already thick with NATO’s barbed-wire barricades, tanks and troops.

Gunmen killed five Serb men from Pec on Thursday as they were trying to flee into neighboring Montenegro, Radovic said. Serb residents fear it is the start of violent revenge accompanying the return of ethnic Albanian refugees to the city.

Residents pressed NATO to disarm the KLA in Pec.

KLA military police officer Ramush Ahmetaj denied any KLA revenge attacks. The KLA intended to find those Serbs with ``dirty hands,″ he said, but only to turn them over to NATO.

At the church, Pavle urged a peaceful justice-seeking for the wrongs of the war.

``All the atrocities and horrible things that happened demand from all of us a sense of sorrow,″ he said.