ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia, Aug. 15 (RNS)--Two weeks ago, a 75-year-old Serbian man took his three goats to a nearby hillside for an evening graze. That night, the goats returned alone.

All that was found of the elderly man was his cap and walking stick, saidLjubisa Vitoshevich, assigned here by the Organization for Security andCooperation in Europe.

One week ago, an empty house once occupied by a Serbian family was guttedby a suspicious fire. It was the fourth such suspected arson attack in thiscity's Serb quarter in the last 21/2 months.

In the face of such unrelenting pressure, it is less a wonder that 2,100Serbs have left here in the last year than that 700 Serbs choose to keep onliving in the embattled neighborhood.

One of the main reasons the Serbs remain is the Rev. Stefan Milenkovic, a33-year-old monk who reluctantly left his monastery to work here as a parishpriest.

``With a priest, we will stay here longer. It is a kind of spiritualshelter. It gives us courage,'' said Stefan Radic, 55, over a glass of lagerbeer in the courtyard of his small home. ``In times like this, people returnto the church. When there is no one to help you, you go and pray to God.''

Radic, who tends the tomato plants in the church garden, was in acelebratory mood. The night before he had heard from a neighbor, a ham radiooperator, that his daughter had given birth to a baby boy in Serbia proper.Lacking any telephones or reliable mail service, the amateur radio is thespeediest form of communication between the Serb enclave and the world outsideKosovo.

After NATO-led troopstook control of the region in June 1999, the returning majority AlbanianKosovars exacted revenge on the 250,000 Serbs living across the province.Through killings, beatings, abductions and arson, ethnic Albanians used thesame tactics that had been used against them by Serbs before and during NATO's 78-day bombingcampaign.

To date, an estimated 150,000 Serbs have left Kosovo. Most of them go toSerbia proper, finding it already burdened with ethnic Serb refugees fromprevious conflicts in the Balkans. Serbian Orthodox Church leaders, who regardKosovo and its 1,400 religious sites as sacred land, are vigorouslyencouraging Serbs to stick it out in the province, where the majorityAlbanians are overwhelmingly Muslim.

When his bishop asked him to leave his post of abbott at a nearbymonastery and begin serving in Orahovac's Church of the Holy Mother of God,Milenkovic was not happy at being thrust into the world.

``I am a monk but here I must live with the people,'' said Milenkovic,speaking through a jet black beard so thick it nearly obscures his mouth. ``Idon't have as much time for my spiritual life, only late at night or early inthe morning.''

In the monastery he would awaken between 2 and 3 a.m. forprayers.

For Milenkovic and other residents of the enclave, the most galling aspectof their existence is the lack of mobility. To leave the warren of narrow,cobblestoned streets lined with simple stone houses topped with red tile roofsis literally to court death. Inside the enclave, the Serbs are protected bycoils of barbed wire and guarded by German soldiers in full combat gear.Outside the enclave, 50,000 ethnic Albanians live and work in this bustling,dusty market town.

Any Serb venturing into the town risks being recognized as such byAlbanians, for whom memories of Serb violence are still raw. As an Orthodoxpriest with his flowing beard, waistlength ponytail, black cassock and pillboxhat, Milenkovic is an instant target for those who view the Serbian OrthodoxChurch as the heart and soul of Serb nationalism.

Milenkovic does not dare leave the enclave without an armed escort fromKFOR, the NATO-led force of 47,000 troops in Kosovo.

``It is very hard to get an escort. For the last two months, I have beenunable to get an escort,'' said Milenkovic, explaining he could not travel tohis Monastery of the Holy Archangel, about a hour distant, to mark its feastday in late June.

In early July, a gunman firing from a car shot an unescorted Orthodoxpriest traveling to a funeral in a part of Kosovo not far from here. Thepriest is currently recovering from the attack in a medical unit at theAmerican contingent's Camp Bondsteel, a spokesman for the diocese said.

The isolation of Orahovac's Serbs touches most aspects of their lives.They have no access to work and rely entirely on humanitarian food aid tosurvive. The schools that once served them are now off limits in the Albanianpart of town.

Serbian-language broadcast television does not exist and few can affordwhat it would cost to buy a satellite dish and transponder. Even burying thedead is problematic. The old cemetery is located outside the enclave's walls,so burials take place on a crowded plot of land next to the church.

Boredom combined with intense feelings of helplessness make the Church ofthe Holy Mother of God a focal point of community life in a way it hasn't beenfor decades. Radic said up to 40 people attend weekday services. Nearlyeveryone came this Easter, the largest Orthodox holiday, he said. Those arebig numbers for Serbs who, as church leaders note, are not known for theirchurchgoing and were profoundly secularized by 50 years of communist rule.

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