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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bishop Joins Exodus of Fearful Serbs

PRIZREN, Yugoslavia -- Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who had tried to stem the exodus of ethnic Serbs from Prizren, joined their flight Wednesday for fear of reprisals.

Under armored escort by German peacekeepers, the bishop and a number of Serbian families left the city for Kosovo's capital, Pristina, the German command said.

Later Wednesday hundreds of ethnic Serbian residents boarded buses and private cars. Guarded by German peacekeeping troops and armored personnel carriers, they were among the last Serbs to flee Kosovo's second-largest city.

Several priests and a nun leaving with the larger group made the sign of the cross before boarding the buses, while ethnic Albanian youths jeered.

Before departing, Father Zoran Grujic said German peacekeepers guaranteed the security of the main Serbian Orthodox church, its adjacent buildings but could not guarantee the clergy's safety.

"We are leaving with a hope of returning," Father Grujic said as German armored vehicles and infantrymen patrolled the streets around the mid-19th century church and residence of the bishop.

Father Zoran said three clergymen would remain behind while the seven to eight others would join the bishop. He said about 20 priests had ministered to the Serbian community before the exodus.

The departing clergy would stay in the area of Pristina, the Kosovo capital, until the situation in Prizren normalized.

The priest said he had heard the Kosovo Liberation Army had kidnapped one departing Serbian monk and had threatened to burn down the church and chase away the clergy.

The pro-independence guerrillas, who have installed an administration in Prizren, have promised not to take reprisals against innocent Serbs and to date there have been no serious incidents.

Most Kosovo Albanians are Moslems, and the Orthodox Church has for centuries been at the forefront of promoting Serbian interests in Kosovo.

Bishop Artemije was at the forefront of those urging the Serbs, who made up about 10 percent of the population, to remain in their hometown rather than seek asylum in Serbia.

But his pleas were of no avail as thousands departed in long motor convoys early this week.

The Prizren area holds some of the Serbian Orthodox Church's most cherished sites and there had been fears ethnic Albanians could vandalize the buildings in retaliation for abuses by Serbs.

As the Serbs departed, ethnic Albanian refugees from camps in nearby Albanian continued to stream into the city. The outgoing Serbs and the ethnic Albanians who had fled repression and brutality by the Serbian military and police, passed one another in the streets.

"Look at the Albanians, they are laughing at us," one departing woman waiting to board a bus was overheard as saying. Her companion replied, "We did the same thing when they left."

A crowd of young ethnic Albanians gathered around the buses jeered and chanted pro-KLA and NATO slogans.