After claims that an old Serb cemetery in North Kosovo was damaged by the building of a new road, the OSCE called for those responsible to be held accountable while the Serbian Orthodox Church said it’s taking legal action.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE on Thursday condemned the construction of a road next to an old Serbian Orthodox cemetery in North Mitrovica in Serb-majority northern Kosovo, allegedly damaging the graveyard.
“Disappointing to see the images of the desecration of the Orthodox cemetery in Mitrovica north in what appears to be a building of a road in violation of the existing legal norms,” the OSCE Mission in Kosovo told BIRN in a written statement.
“We commend the municipality and police for their immediate reaction and for halting the works. Important to call those responsible to account,” it added.
The Serbian Orthodox Church said it is taking legal action to identify the perpetrators of what it called an “act of vandalism” and bring them to justice, the Diocese of Raska Prizren told BIRN.
The diocese said that “appropriate legal remedies are already being prepared, and we will insist that the entire case be monitored by international organisations”.
Kosovo Police on Wednesday opened a criminal case focusing on damage done to the old cemetery in North Mitrovica during excavations for the construction of a road leading to the multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Mikronaselje.
Construction was halted by the municipality after complaints by locals.
Local media reported that the cemetery is on the land owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Diocese of Raska Prizren said it is checking the ownership situation, but added that that “for us, this is not primarily a property issue”.
“For us, the desecration of cemeteries or the digging up of mortal remains is a deeply disturbing, uncivilised act, which is also a criminal act,” the diocese said.
“We believe that the climate of impunity for these crimes has led to the road being built over the cemetery in the urbanised part of Mitrovica,” it added.
The main Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party Srpska Lista has claimed that the Kosovo government has ordered the Orthodox cemetery to be dug up.
But Kosovo’s Ministry of Local Government Administration insisted that the allegation is not true.
“There is no decision either from the government of the Republic of Kosovo or from the municipality for any such work” on digging up the old cemetery, the ministry said in a statement.
The statement said that the ministry’s current construction programme “only finances the construction of houses and not road infrastructure”.
It explained that the government scheme is focused on the construction and renovation of houses in minority communities.
The Diocese of Raska Prizren expressed concern that the incident might not be properly sanctioned.
“What is usually a problem in these cases are mild classifications of the act by the Kosovo police, or mild punishments by the courts, which sends a message to the public that such uncivilised acts are not punishable,” it said.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions in northern Kosovo amid repercussions over a violent clash last month in which a Kosovo policeman and three armed Serbs were killed. The clash happened when police confronted a Serbian armed group led by a controversial businessman who was also a vice-president of Srpska Lista at the time.
Source : Balkaninsight