Religious leaders from western Balkans pledged to work jointly

Religious leaders from western Balkans, a region torn by ethnic and sectarian wars in the 1990s, on Friday pledged to work jointly to bring peace and development to their countries. Some 60 clerics from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro and the U.N.-run province of Kosovo met for a four-day conference on ways of achieving greater religious tolerance and trying to heal the scars and divisions left by the conflicts.

"We support and encourage one and other as religious communities in promoting multi-faith dialogue and building inter-religious councils in order to transform conflict, build peace and advance sustainable development," said a communique approved Friday.

The clerics also expressed support for Kosovo's communities and urged inter-religious dialogue and cooperation in the province where U.N.-mediated talks on its future status are expected to begin soon.

"(We are) standing in solidarity in supporting the religious leaders of Kosovo as they take forward inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, and supporting their joint initiative to convene in Kosovo early in 2006," said the communique.

The meeting was being held in Albania, a predominantly Muslim nation with large Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic minorities. Muslims in the officially secular nation practice a moderate form of the faith, and relations with other religious communities are generally good.

Participants at the conference, which started Wednesday, discussed how "to develop together a language that is understood by the societies in which we live" through `placing our religious infrastructure and resources at the service of our shared work." The clerics also recognized the contribution and impact that religious women play in their communities and urged their governments "to acknowledge the constructive role of religious communities in building stable civil societies."

They discussed religion's role in society and the parts played by clerical leaders before, during and after the wars of the 1990s in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo _ in which a total of about 250,000 people perished.

The 1991-95 Croatian war pitted Roman Catholic Croats against Orthodox Serbs, while during the three-sided '92-'95 Bosnian war the two groups and Bosnian Muslims all fought each other. Serbs and the mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians battled before and during the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, reports the AP. I.L.