Serb church urges state of war over Kosovo

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BELGRADE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Serbia should rally its armed forces, declare Kosovo 'occupied territory' and buy weapons from Russia to reclaim it, the head of the Serb Orthodox Church in Kosovo was quoted on Sunday as saying.

"The statement by the chief of staff, General Zdravko Ponos, that Kosovo will not be defended by the army, is a disgrace," Bishop Artemije told the daily Glas Javnosti.

"Serbia should buy state of the art weapons from Russia and other countries and call on Russia to send the volunteers and establish a military presence in Serbia," he said.

"Kosovo was and always will be Serbian," the bishop said. The declaration of independence that its Albanian leaders are due to make later on Sunday means "a temporary state of occupation".

"Everything will pass, and so will the occupation of Kosovo," the 73-year-old church leader added.

Serbian commentator Bosko Jaksic said Artemije's outrage was predictable, as were a number of other expected reactions.

"In the next few days, we can expect angry press releases. There will be calls for sessions of National Security Councils and the International Court of Justice. The level of diplomatic ties with the countries that recognize the new Balkan state will be lowered," he wrote in the pro-government daily Politika.

"Church bells will ring, and we know the bishop will repeat that we'll have to fight for Kosovo for 500 more years. The army will be -- for show -- put on a higher state of alert. There will be criticism of western media if they don't show dramatic lines of Serb refugees."


In its own editorial, Politika said Kosovo's declaration of independence "will not be the end of a part of our history".

It will be "the beginning of struggle, a marathon, where it is not important who is the fastest runner, but who will reach the end," it said. The fight would be very hard "because prejudices about Serbs are deeply rooted".

The popular Belgrade daily Blic quoted two Kosovo commentators, an Albanian and a Serb, as saying they did not expect serious violence over Kosovo's secession.

Albanian analyst Shkelzen Maliqi said there might be some tension but "Albanians are satisfied and they have no reason to fight Serbs".

Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic said Serbs would suffer a heavy blow to their national identity.

"That sort of feeling can cause national frustrations which are dangerous," he said, but added: "I don't expect unrest in Kosovo. It may be paradox, but the chances for that are less than ever. There is nothing spontaneous in Kosovo, everything is directed. At this moment the Albanians know that violence will damage them."

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who was expected to procalim independence on Sunday, has repeatedly assured Serbs in Kosovo of equal rights and protection under the law.

His conciliatory words are viewed cynically by Serb nationalists who say the former guerrilla fighter simply parrots what he is told to say by Kosovo's Western backers.

The Kosovo daily Express carried a banner headline on its independence day edition that left no doubt about Albanian feelings on finally escaping Serb rule that lasted throughout the years of the old federation of Yugoslavia.

"FUCK YU", the headline said. (Reporting by Ksenija Prodanovic and Fatos Bytyci; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Tim Pearce)