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Yugoslavia: Bishop Says Kosovo Peace Prospects Bleak Under Milosevic

Washington, 16 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A leading Serbian bishop says there can be no peace in Kosovo as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power.

Bishop Artimije Radosavljevic of the Serbian Orthodox Church made the comment in Washington Tuesday during a press briefing sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace -- a non-profit research organization focusing on promoting peaceful conflict resolution.

Bishop Artimije says that a peaceful solution in Kosovo cannot be found because, in his words, the "undemocratic regime of Mr. Milosevic is not only violating the human rights of Kosovo Albanians, but also the rights of the Serb population." He adds that it is unlikely there will ever be a solution to Kosovo with Milosevic in power because the people of Kosovo would not support the efforts of an "authoritarian power."

The bishop says the problem of Kosovo is not a geopolitical issue, but "a problem of democracy and human rights." He says it must be resolved in a peaceful and democratic way, adding that there is "no solution in weapons."

Said the bishop: "Weapons must be silenced so the people can speak."

According to Bishop Artimije, efforts to classify Kosovo as a religious conflict are unfounded. He says it is impossible to consider the situation as religiously motivated because both Christianity and Islam oppose violence. He emphasizes that religion can play a constructive role in building peace and confidence-building in Kosovo.

The bishop says that three months ago, he circulated a draft proposal outlining how the different religious communities in the region -- primarily the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslims -- could work together toward peace in Kosovo. But the bishop says he has yet to receive a "proper response" from any of the other religious leaders.

The bishop says that in his opinion, the first step to peace in the region would be to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army and allow special Serb police forces to stay in Kosovo until peace and order is firmly established.

He explains: "It is impossible to ask for a unilateral withdrawal of the Serbian police without the cessation of the separatist and terrorist activities of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army."

Bishop Artimije also says that both the local and international community must focus on the plight of internally displaced refugees in Kosovo as soon as possible. He says that their current situation is intolerable and all efforts to resolve their hardship must be a priority. He said it is "totally unacceptable" to use displaced persons for any political reason.

Another speaker at the press briefing, Father Sava Janjic, Senior Monk of the Decani Monastery Brotherhood, said that the religious communities in Kosovo and Metohija can play a much more constructive role in achieving peace and making coexistence possible. He says this is critically different than the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he says abuse of religion, directly or indirectly caused the escalation of inter-ethnic conflicts.

Janjic also said that despite the religious differences in Kosovo, religious communities ought to clearly demonstrate readiness to pursue a lasting peace based on truth, justice, and respect of human rights. He said this goal can be achieved only by developing cooperation, personal contacts, and organizing symposiums and debates in the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect for tradition and customs.

Momicilo Trajkovic, President of the Serbian Resistance Party, also spoke at the press conference. He said it cannot be emphasized enough that President Milosevic is the main stumbling block in securing a peaceful resolution to the situation in Kosovo.

Trajkovic also chided the international community and those who support Milosevic's activities, saying they are only perpetuating the difficulties in the region. He said the time has come for all sides to overcome prejudices and preconceptions and sit down and really discuss a way to end the suffering in Kosovo.

Said Trajkovic: "With great regret, I'm forced to say that the Albanian and Serbian sides today are behaving like teenagers. And the international community is acting like an older teenager. Obviously, none of us have learned a lesson from Bosnia. I hope that we will have better times ahead."

Bishop Artimije, Father Janjic and Trajkovic are in Washington on a trip sponsored by several private U.S. organizations.