UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION -----
www.kosovo.net COMMUNIQUE OF VISOKI DECANI MONASTERY ON THE REFUSAL BY DECANI MUNICIPALITY TO IMPLEMENT UNMIK'S DECISION REGARDING THE CORRECTION OF THE MONASTERY'S CADASTRAL INFORMATION Visoki Decani Monastery June 5, 2008 Although it was not the intention of Visoki Decani Monastery to sensationalistically launch the issue of monastery property in the media, because of the newly created situation and erroneous interpretations being spread by certain Albanian media the monastery administration has decided to explain in detail to the public the essence of the problem and all relevant facts regarding this case, which is in many ways illustrative of the problems faced by the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija. It is not the intention of the monastery to needlessly politicize this issue to resolve it in the interests of justice and the rule of law, which is the only guarantee for the survival of the Serbian people in this region. On May 17, 2008, Mr. Joachim Ruecker, the head of UNMIK, signed an executive decision (2008/21) ordering the municipal cadastral office in Decani to return the cadastral information for Visoki Decani Monastery to its state in 1998. The UNMIK Department of Justice established by investigation that the municipal cadastral office in Decani had illegally made changes to cadastral information without any court decision and contrary to the law in 2001. At that time 24 hectares of monastery land was relabeled as socially-owned property of various Albanian companies, which came forward with the claim that this was supposedly their land. Namely, the aforementioned land was owned by the monastery until 1946, when it was confiscated, together with 700 hectares more of monastery land by the Communist regime of that time. On the aforementioned land a small beekeepers collective was built, as well as the Visoki Decani Motel; by the beginning of the 1990s both had stopped functioning, like many companies that went bankrupt due to poor business practices. Both buildings were later damaged during the time of the armed conflict and after 1999 they were looted on numerous occasions by local looters. Therefore, in 1997 the Serbian Government passed a "deed of gift" returning these 24 hectares to the monastery as their former owner, and this land transaction was properly record in March 1998 in the municipal cadastral office. No appeals were submitted during the appeal period, either in court or among the publish, and this property transaction was carried out in accordance with all legal regulations of the Republic of Serbia, for which there is authentic original documentation that has been kept. After the end of the armed conflict in 1999 local Albanian authorities immediately began to contest this decision by the Serbian government. The monastery was openly threatened by an organization of the so-called KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] war veterans. In February and June 2000 the monastery came under mortar attack. The next attack occurred during the March  pogrom, and the most recent one occurred in March of last year when the monastery was targeted from a rocket launcher (a total of four attacks with heavy weapons). Since no valid court decision was issued to annul the 1997 decision of the Serbian government, and with the intention of taking away the land from the monastery at any cost, the municipal authorities arbitrarily made their own decision instead of the court and relabeled the monastery land as municipal land, removing these land tracts from the monastery cadastral list in 2001. In summer of 2002 two objects owned by the monastery located in the center of town [of Decani] were destroyed with the justification that this was "socially owned property", which later turned out to be inaccurate. In 2002 two companies claiming to be the legal successors of those existing prior to 1999 even initiated legal proceedings before the municipal court but the case was thrown out by the district court in Pec in 2005, and UNMIK's Kosovo Trust Agency proclaimed it illegal because such cases by enterprises can only be conducted before the court of the Kosovo Trust Agency's Special Chamber. Since the cadastral records had already been changed, these enterprises and the municipality became silent, and since then there have been no new court proceedings. The administration of Visoki Decani Monastery, whose unobstructed right to use this land was approved by the first head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, and which has been using this land continuously since 1997, has tried for years to correct this injustice and contest the falsification of cadastral documents. The monastery's position has been and remains that anyone wishing to contest someone's ownership of something can only do so by legal court process, and not by arbitrarily tailoring justice. That is why after investigating this case in detail and establishing the cadastral manipulation the head of UNMIK on May 17, 2008, issued an executive decision that is legally binding and orders the status of cadastral records to be returned to the status quo ante, i.e. to the status prior to the illegal manipulation of cadastral records. This leaves the possibility of resolving the matter through legal and peaceful means. The executive decision required the correction of cadastral records in favor of the monastery within a period of 10 days, i.e. by May 27, 2008. Unfortunately, Decani municipality immediately opposed this UNMIK decision and first began an extremely one sided media campaign with an article in [Albanian language Pristina daily] Koha Ditore with the claim that UNMIK allegedly illegally returned socially-owned land to the monastery. Members of the so-called KLA war veterans then personally threatened UNMIK official Patrick Buse (Germany), and as a result Buse suspended further work in Decani municipality. The veterans led by the problematic Abdyl Mushkolai (who had earlier threatened the monastery in 2004, 2005 and 2007) have announced demonstrations in the near future, thus destabilizing the security situation in the municipality. On June 3 the monastery formally asked the municipal cadastral office to issue a cadastral list for the monastery in accordance with the decision of UNMIK in order to verify whether the executive decision was carried out. However, the response from the municipality was that they do not recognize UNMIK and that they do not recognize any sort of executive decision by UNMIK. Finally, yesterday, on June 4, the Decani municipal assembly held an extraordinary session where it was decided not to implement the UNMIK chief's executive decision and not to change the ownership of the land in favor of the monastery until this issue "is resolved by a competent court and a law on property is passed". Basically, this represents a cynical substitution of arguments since the municipality changed the monastery's cadastral information illegally and without a court decision, making it legally impossible to begin such a court proceeding unless the UNMIK executive decision is first implemented, on which the monastery and UNMIK are insisting. Moreover, the arbitrary changing of cadastral information is a prosecutable act, and in the event of a new court case the first priority would be to resolve and investigate the accountability of the authorities. Especially worrisome is that the municipal assembly has decided to break off all contact with local UNMIK staff, which along with the refusal to implement the UNMIK chief's executive decision is an open example of negating the authority of UNMIK and UN SC Resolution 1244. Local representatives of UNMIK are unjustly accused even though the executive decision was passed by the head of UNMIK in coordination with the UNMIK legal office in Pristina. Some international representatives in Pristina see this as an introduction to the announced expulsion of the UN Mission from Kosovo prior to the enactment of the Kosovo constitution on June 15. In some Albanian circles there is increasingly open talk that as of June 15 UNMIK will no longer be considered a legal institution in Kosovo and Metohija, which is cause for deep concern by the Serbs in this region as well as sharp opposition by some international circles because Resolution 1244 remains in effect and cannot be unilaterally abrogated. Bishop Teodosije, abbot of Decani Monastery, sent a letter yesterday to UNMIK chief Ruecker asking that UNMIK act to protect justice and the rule of law and remain adamant in its request for the implementation of the executive decision on the monastery property. Furthermore, Bishop Teodosije will be writing today to appropriate institutions in Serbia and the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations in New York, Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, in order to inform them of the open violation of the law and undermining of UNMIK's authority in Kosovo to the detriment of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija. In yesterday's letter to Mr. Ruecker Bishop Teodosije expressed serious concern for the future of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, who in a situation where institutional repression by local authorities is increasingly frequent, have found themselves (in a position of) legal insecurity and their future is completely uncertain. Just in the district of Pec in the local courts there are 7000 appeals following usurpation of Serbian property and falsification of contracts regarding the alleged sale of Serbian land to Albanians. We must ask ourselves the serious questions whether cadastral records in other municipalities have also been tampered with, taking land owned by the Serbian monasteries, churches and people, and whether anyone is even controlling the protection of the property rights of the non-Albanian population. Moreover, the insistence that Visoki Decani Monastery lose its right to almost 50% of its present property, and that this land be turned over to some kind of phantom enterprises that claim to be currently active after 20 years of dormancy and that have no legal continuity with the pre-1999 companies demonstrates the lack of will of local authorities to respect the law on special protected zones announced for the month of June. This law is expected to prohibit industrial and commercial activity in about 20 special protected zones surrounding Serbian Orthodox monasteries and important cultural-historical objects so even if the land of the monastery is given to these companies, they could not use it. From this contradictory situation we can conclude that guarantees regarding the protection of Serbian holy shrines and respect for the property of the Church may very well end up being nothing but meaningless words on paper because if municipal structures were preparing to respect this law, why would they be so determined in denying the monastery its land and asking for resumed activity for industrial-commercial companies? The administration of Visoki Decani Monastery expects UNMIK to continue to implement its mandate in accordance with UN SC Resolution 1244, and the implementation of the UNMIK chief's executive decision in full. We deeply regret this incomprehensible behavior on the part of municipal structures, threats to UNMIK officials and creation of a public lynch atmosphere, it is said in Bishop Teodosije's letter to the UNMIK chief, which also expresses the hope that municipal structures will comprehend that justice and the rule of law can only be achieved by respecting the law in accordance which the currently valid UN SC Resolution. CELEBRATION OF MONASTERY CHURCH'S PATRONAL FEAST - ASCENSION OF CHRIST Since today Visoki Decani Monastery celebrates the patronal feast of its church dedicated tot he Ascension of Christ some 2000 guests are expected in the monastery. Romanian Bishop Seraphim will serve Holy Hierarchal Liturgy with the assistance of Bishops Constantine and Teodosije (of the Serbian Orthodox Church) and a number of priests and priest-monks. The monastery administration expects that the holiday will be celebrated in peace and without incidents. The celebration of the church's patronal feast will be secured by strong Italian KFOR forces. Bishop Teodosije has requested addition protection for the monastery from KFOR as a result of the newly created situation regarding the monastery land.