Church icons stolen in KOSOVO sold to finance terrorism

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Some of the icons pillaged from the 35 SERBIAN Orthodox churches targeted in KOSOVO in March 2004 have been sold in the black market. The violence in KOSOVO, known in SERBIA as “the March pogrom,” was organized by ethnic ALBANIANS and targeted SERBS, their property, and holy places. According to an ITALIAN official attached to the World Customs Organization, some of the money earned through the sale of the stolen religious artefacts was also used “to finance terrorism,” the daily Vecernje Novosti writes. Ciluffo GASPARE, an officer with the organization’s regional intelligence liaison office, made this statement during a meeting in BRUSSELS, the daily reported, and described him as having “excellent knowledge of the situation in KOSOVO and METOHIJA.”  The meeting was held to discuss Operation Odyssey, carried out in late March in 43 countries and targeting smugglers of art and cultural heritage items. The SERBIAN Customs Directorate took part in “the secret operation,” writes the newspaper. Branka KNEZEVIC, who heads the Department of Investigations of the Serbian Customs Administration, said that “due to the unstable political situation and wars in the MIDDLE EAST and EASTERN EUROPE” the number of thefts and smuggling incidents involving art and ancient artifacts had increased, “along with the demand and the prices in the illegal market in Western EUROPE.”  She said that the SERBIAN Customs cooperated with Europol, Interpol, and Unesco, “to whom they sent information about the uncreased smuggling of cultural treasures from IRAQ and SYRIA, but also from CYPRUS, LITHUANIA, and RUSSIA.” The daily reported that the SERBIAN Customs in the past three years seized artifacts “of great value” during 24 separate operations.”