Kosovo mayor refuses to cede land to UNESCO Serbian monastery

The 14th century Serbian Orthodox Decani Monastery in Kosovo is one of the church's most revered sites (AFP Photo/Armend NIMANI)

Pristina (AFP) - A mayor in Kosovo has refused to cede contested land to a UNESCO-listed Serbian Orthodox monastery despite a court order and pressure from the EU, in a long-running

The status of Serbian Orthodox church sites in mainly Muslim Kosovo is an acute source of tension between the neighbours, who were split by war 20 years ago.

One of the most revered churches, the 14th-century Decani monastery is still guarded by NATO-led forces and has been embroiled in a decades-old dispute with local authorities over 24 hectares (59 acres) of land.

In 2016 Kosovo's constitutional court ruled that the land belonged to the monastery, which has been using the plot for agriculture.

But the mayor of Decan municipality has made clear he would not respect the decision, despite a recent call from the European Union to honour the ruling.

"Although we are aware of the consequences of not implementing the decision issued by the Constitutional Court, we are very determined not to apply it," Mayor Bashkim Ramosaj posted on Facebook.

"I stand firm at this point," he added when contacted by AFP Thursday.

His comments came after the EU's special envoy to Kosovo on Monday expressed "deep concern" over Kosovo's failure to honour the court ruling.

"Decisions by Kosovo's highest legal authority are final and must be implemented without further delay," the envoy, Nataliya Apostolova, said in a statement.

Speaking to local media, a church representative said the dispute "creates a feeling of insecurity and discrimination".

The Decan municipality is a stronghold of Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerilla fighter who takes a hardline position against Serbia.

The neighbours are now under EU pressure to normalise ties, a condition for either to possibly someday join the bloc.

But their dismal relations have sunk further in recent months, with EU-led negotiations grounding to a halt after a series of diplomatic clashes.

Serbia still refuses to accept Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence, considering it a renegade province.