17 March 2006

No religious rites at Rugova's funeral



Pristina, 25 Jan. (AKI) - Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova, who died of lung cancer last Saturday, will be buried in Pristina without religious rites, his spokesman Muhamed Hamiti said Wednesday. A committee created to organise the burial to be held on Thursday has decided that that it will be a national and state funeral, without religious rites," Hamiti told the Albanian language daily Koha ditore. There have been reports that Rugova, a Muslim, had converted to Catholicism, triggering speculations whether he would be buried according to Catholic, or Muslim rites.


Some Catholic priests in Pristina have said that Rugova was a "Catholic in his heart" but wouldn't be buried as Catholic so as not to irritate the mostly Muslim Albanian community. The burial committee, which consists of members of Rugova family and leading political figures appears to have opted for a compromise solution aimed at not to offending either side.


Rugova, who was in essence a pacifist, has asked, according to his family, to be buried in the memorial complex in the centre of Pristina, dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which started a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998 prompted by Belgrade's persecution of Kosovo's Albanian ethnic majority.


Officially, Kosovo is still a part of Serbia, though it has been under United Nations control since Serbian forces were pushed from the province by a NATO bombing campaign in 1999. Serbian president Boris Tadic has asked a permission to attend a funeral, but his request was turned down by the burial committee.


"It is elementary duty that the president of Serbia goes to Kosovo, which is a part of the territory of this country and its integrity, to pay due respect to the political representative of the Albanian people," Tadic said.


The statement would have riled most ethnic Albanians who favour independence for the territory.


"President Tadic isn't welcome to the funeral, particularly after his last comments. The president of Serbia hasn't chosen the best moment to express the ambitions of his state towards Kosovo," an unnamed government official told Reuters newsagency.


Belgrade opposes Kosovo's independence. Talks on the final status of the province, which were scheduled for Wednesday, were postponed to February because of Rugova's death.


The funeral will be attended by many foreign leaders and dignataries with most Balkan countries represented.