Source AP ©

Russian Orthodox Patriarch: Serbs must live peacefully in Kosovo

Serbs must be able to live peacefully in Kosovo after its final status is determined, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said Tuesday and decried the destruction of Orthodox churches in the province.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said Kosovo was "sacred" for Serbs and offered his help in mediating the crisis in the region.

"The Russian Orthodox Church has considerable experience in peace-building and peacemaking and we stand ready to help," he told the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly.

Orthodox Serbs consider Kosovo, although today predominantly ethnic Albanian and Muslim, the heart of their ancient homeland. Since the end of a 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces, Kosovo's minority Serbs have lived in guarded enclaves under fear of attack at the hands of Albanians, and many Orthodox churches and monuments have been destroyed or vandalized.

"There are many monuments that are sacred to the people of Serbia and we cannot silently stand by when those monuments are being destroyed, despite the fact that they are under the protection of UNESCO and were built in the 12th, 14th or 15th century," Alexy II said.

Kosovo, a province of 2 million people, has been under U.N. administration since 1999. Its final status, which is under discussion, is an emotional issue in the region.