The clergy of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Decani in Kosovo have locked their gates, after protests in the town that continued for weeks moved in front of the entrance.
For the first time in 13 years, the clergy of the historic monastery locked the gates to visitors last Friday owing to security worries, following an escalation of local protests over a court decision on land.
In the controversial ruling, the supreme court in Pristina recently returned land to the monastery that was taken after the 1999 conflict between Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and Serbian government forces.
Archimandrite Sava Janjic, the Prior of Visoki Decani, told Balkan Insight that there was an ongoing campaign to drive the clergy from the monastery and make the last ethnic Serbs leave the area.
"After the protests started on December 10, KFOR [UN peacekeepers] promised not to let any protesters in front of the monastery. But they allowed some ten people to approach the entrance, followed by cameras," Janjic told Balkan Insight.
KFOR however did not let them carry a banner that read: "This is our monastery. Hands off our land."
The land in question was taken from the monastery after the Communist takeover of Yugoslavia in 1946.
It was given back under the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 1997. Since the Kosovo war ended, the land has remained disputed because two public companies are claiming ownership.
The Kosovo supreme court late last year dismissed the appeal of the companies that sought an annulment of the first-instance verdict in favour of the monastery.
EU officials and the US ambassador welcomed the ruling, but it angered people in Decani who have been gathering to protest against the decision since December 10.
The first protest, which drew more than 2,000 people, was attended by the president of the municipality as well as by members of the nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination Movement), who vowed to continue the protests until the verdict was cancelled.
The monastery has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2004.
Prior Janjic says the case shows that the local authorities in Decani refuse to obey Kosovo's own laws.
"This is a huge embarrassment for Kosovo, and I am sorry the representatives of Kosovo government are not more active in resolving this issue," he said.
Janjic recalled that the monastery had been attacked four times since the war ended, once by rocket fire.
"We cannot allow the monastery to be endangered again," warned Janjic. "This is an attempt to evict the last remaining Serbs from Decani."
Janjic said that neither he nor his clergy can currently leave the monastery, which is guarded by KFOR and EU police.
The Serbian Islamic Community organisation also issued a statement on Sunday calling for peace and reconciliation, "in accordance with the values that our religioun instructs".