Religious leaders appeal to communities to unite in rebuilding Kosovo

The appeal came at the end of a meeting organized by Norwegian Church Aid that brought together representatives of the Serb Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and Kosovo's Islamic, Jewish and Evangelical communities.

In a joint statement, the leaders pleaded for the communities to "move towards an open future with interaction and profound responsibility for each other before God."

The religious leaders committed to intensifying inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, as well as holding meetings between senior religious leaders, said the statement, issued by NCA.

The two-day meeting took place inside the NATO-guarded Patriarchate in the western town of Pec, and was held just before the continuation of U.N.-mediated talks on the province's future. There have been fears of an increase in tension between the communities during the talks, which are due to conclude at the end of 2006, the AP reports.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which is predominantly Muslim, wants the province to become independent. Serbs, who are Orthodox Christian, insist that some links with Serbia must be retained.

The joint statement condemned the destruction of churches, mosques and cemeteries targeted during a crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians or in the war's aftermath when ethnic Albanian extremists attacked Serb religious sites.

The religious leaders appealed for their communities to join them in rebuilding "not only our religious sites, but also to rebuild our lives, our hearts and our minds," they said in their statement.

Kosovo has been run as a U.N. protectorate since mid-1999, when a NATO air war halted the Serb crackdown.