By: Stefan J. Bos
Eastern Europe Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
BUDAPEST/PRISTINA (ANS) -- The NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo (K-FOR) has identified a British soldier who died while guarding a Serbian Orthodox Church in the regional Capital Pristina, ASSIST News Service learned Wednesday December 19.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Mooney, a spokesman for K-FOR said 17-year old Private James Carl Rogers, a member of the Royal Regiment of Wales, died after an incident on Monday.
K-FOR officials believe the head wound which caused Roger's death was inflicted by his own weapon. The man is the sixth British soldier to die on duty in the Yugoslav province this year and the 10th since NATO troops entered the province, in 1999.
This latest incident is seen as a moral set back for peacekeepers who are trying to protect Serb Christians at a time of growing tensions ahead of Christmas. Around 100 Orthodox churches are said to have been destroyed in Kosovo, since about 40,000 NATO peacekeepers took control of the troubled province more than two years ago.
The Secretary of the Orthodox Bishop in Kosovo, Father Sava (Janjic), told ASSIST News Service in an interview that the Serb minority needs the protection of the international community. "People are exposed to constant harassment," he said.
"There are killed people, massacred people, there are rapes, looting and also destruction of churches and religious monuments," he said. In the last two years, an estimated 200,000 Serbs fled Kosovo following revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians, which killed dozens of people.
The incidents began soon after 78-days of NATO air strikes forced Serb troops to withdraw from the troubled province in 1999. This week Father Sava told Keston News Service, which investigates religious persecution, that "hate speech" from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority has further increased tensions.
He said three ethnic Albanian papers published in September an open letter from Musa Berisha, President of the Decani-based Albanian Council of Human Rights Defense, alleging that the Orthodox Decani monastery played a significant role housing Serbian "Nazis" during fighting in 1998 and 1999.
They accused the monastery's abbot, Father Teodosije, and his deputy, Father Sava, being willing hosts for the paramilitary forces, and it was alleged that Father Sava also practiced shooting nearby. He has strongly denied the accusations.
Veton Surroi, the publisher of Koha Ditore, one of the three papers that published allegations, told KNS that the article did not necessarily reflect the views of the paper. "Father Sava has been always invited to state his position in Koha Ditore, even in more difficult times of war, and he is always welcome to do so," Surroi told KNS.
Father Sava said such a response was inadequate and that the international bodies should take action to prevent or punish such "hate speech". Western diplomats hope the recently elected Kosovo Parliament will improve multi-ethnic and religious understanding. But the 120-seat legislature has so far failed to elect a President, amidst nationalist tensions.