FATHER RADIVOJE: We went to Gracanica without escort, although KFOR soldiers had already blocked the roads, stopped and controlled traffic. There we encountered total panic. Gracanica and the surrounding villages were under tremendous pressure, as it was expected that they would be attacked. The information was that Albanians from all parts of Kosovo had been heading towards Gracanica and that was a critical moment. From Gracanica we went to other endangered Serb enclaves, first of all Lipljan. We did not have escort, just like on many occasions in the past, so that we were not able to visit all of the spots we would have liked. Only main roads were accessible without escort.
DANAS: What was your experience with the Kosovo Police Service? Kosovo Serbs claim that Kosovo Police Service members participated in the Albanian violence?
Those first two-three days the KPS did not stop anyone, because KFOR controlled all the roads. But, after those first few days, they started stopping, maltreating and arresting Serbs who attempted to move around without escort, which now cannot be officially obtained, even if you have to go to a hospital... We visited Caglavica, Lipljan, and Kosovo Polje. People who survived attacks and expulsion from their homes claim that KPS members had the chief role in the violence. Most of KPS members are former KLA and they had the key role in the attacks. They literally guided the mob by pointing out Serb homes, perhaps not deliberately. The mob followed them and burned and looted. There is the example of father Randjel Denic, a priest in Lipljan. A hand grenade was thrown at him. It exploded and father Randjel was wounded by 13 pieces of shrapnel. The KPS appeared at the scene within five minutes. Nine policemen surrounded father Randjel's house, with drawn guns, and demanded that he come out with raised arms. They started making threats, saying that father Randjel had provoked clashes in Lipljan by throwing a grenade. He was arrested, and left tied up in a police car surrounded by Albanian demonstrators for an hour and a half, which was absolutely terrifying. After that they moved him to the police station where he stayed for another four and a half hours. Many Serbs claim that the KPS forced them to abandon their homes. I have reliable information from Kosovo Polje that they poured gasoline from a water cistern truck on house walls and around houses before setting them on fire. Consequently, their responsibility must be investigated. That should be done by international institutions, which bear most responsibility.
Why did KFOR decline for a while to provide escorts, even for religious officials, to the Devic monastery and Prizren? The impression is that they might have wanted to hide the extent of destruction?
It's the same story as after June 14, 1999, when we requested that French KFOR troops take us to the Devic monastery on several occasions, to see what was going on there. Mother Makarija, the abbess of the Sokolica monastery, made it first to the monastery. The sisters in the Devic monastery were under a blockade of local Albanians, who looted the monastery and tortured the nuns. On that occasion, the sisters were forced to clean up and put together everything that had been broken and brought down within the monastery yard and inside the church. We arrived three days later. This time, the situation was no different. The situation in the Devic monastery, encountered by bishop Atanasije, was not the same as when mother Anastasije went two days later. Most likely, the monastery was set on fire on Thursday evening, or during the night, so that they had two or three days to destroy. On Sunday, the sight of the Devic monastery was horrible to behold, but the scene encountered by mother Anastasija and father Mihailo had been much worse. Most likely, it would have been even worse if KFOR soldiers did not arrive last Monday, in the afternoon, surrounded the whole monastery complex and are not protecting it from further destruction. Otherwise, Albanians would have probably blown up the monastery, as in Djakovica, where they demolished the church, removed its remains and converted the area into a park.
Judging by the news, the situation is improving, except for new protests against arrests of former KLA members. Peaceful protests preceded the last outburst of violence as well. Could new protest be an introduction into a new wave of violent attacks?
Although the media give the impression that the situation is improving, that is not true. It is true that at the moment burnt and destroyed houses, churches and monasteries are being protected, but one can still feel a lot of tension, clashes, in the air. A few days ago a UNMiK policeman was killed near Podujevo and the attack was repeated on several occasions. There are indications that there were problems between Albanians and KFOR in several parts of Kosovo. They haven't changed their story since 1999. They only care about independence. As far as ordinary people are concerned, it could be that that was the basic motivation for their rebellion. We do not have a problem with that. Everyone has the right to demonstrate, request and make demands. But, whether anyone has the right to terrorize others, that is the question the international community and the UN need to answer. Who will now bear responsibility? The international community hasn't pulled out of Kosovo, they still have the obligation to implement the UN SC Resolution 1244.
Could the recent events change the picture of what is happening in Kosovo and Metohija abroad, redirect, or at least slow down political processes pushed by the international community?
We must speak out, both here and abroad. There are many well meaning persons, both here and abroad, who want to present the truth. Recent events are only a culmination of everything that had happened over the previous four and a half years. I recall a conversation I had with KFOR soldiers. They told me: "You must liberate yourselves. Freedom is here, but you are still convinced that you are not free". I'd like to see that gentleman now and ask him what sort of freedom he was talking about if soldiers under his command are not permitted to leave their bases when off duty. Everywhere in the world, soldiers are permitted to leave their bases, change into plain clothes and walk around. In Kosovo, that is banned. I hope that the consciousness of the international community will fully open and change. Not for our sake, for the sake of Serbs. We know how to bear our fate. What matters is the truth, the full truth. Everything that is happening now must open their eyes. Especially since these events are connected to Islamic extremism, perhaps even Al Qaeda.
Are you sure Kosovo Albanians and their attitude towards religion are connected with radical Islam?
Of course, that is not that strong in Kosovo, but one should not doubt that Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo Albanians have links with Muslim extremism. I cannot tell how strong these links are. I would not be so sure whether that applies to only one group, as it is obvious that there are several factions among Kosovo Albanians. Some of them are more pro-European, pro-American, others pro-Muslim, and everyone has his own interests in that mix.
You have worked a lot on the return of Serbs to Metohija [western part of the province]. To what extent will the most recent events influence the return, given that, for example, only in the village of Belo Polje, all recently rebuilt houses were burnt?
It cannot be denied that the determination of Serbs to return to their homes has been shaken. But, if the houses are rebuilt, if there are homes to which people can return, I am confident that they will return. I have already contacted people from Belo Polje, who were already forced to leave in 1999, when their village was burnt and demolished. They intend to come back, if their houses are reconstructed and brought to the condition they were in before the attack. Now, we are trying to assist the sisters from the Devic monastery in their return to the monastery. They are demanding to be allowed to return immediately, if necessary to live under tents. The French general still hasn't deigned to receive them, although he had seen and talked to them several times before the recent events. As he was personally responsible for that area, he had to show at least readiness to hear them out, although in my opinion he has the obligation to personally take them to Devic, if necessary. The nuns have visited and seen the monastery only thanks to friendly relations with some people in UNMiK and the Kosovo Police Service. We are trying to be of assistance to them, as well as all to other persons in need. If our people are not there, we cannot say that Kosovo is ours. Albanians are aware of that. That is what motivated their attacks on Serbs, their desire to erase them once and for all from some enclaves.