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On the eve of Christmas, Kosovo’s Serbs have been following tradition and gathering branches to be burned in remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Christians around the world will mark Christmas on January 7. But some Serbs in Kosovo fear this could be the last such celebration in their homes.

They could flee if the province’s ethnic Albanian leaders, as expected, declare independence from Belgrade.

One young Kosovo Serb, collecting branches near Mitrovica, said he would not leave but predicted lots of other Serbs would go.

“No matter what happens, we will stay here,” another teenager added.
“I will defend my home. I hope that this is not our last Christmas here.”

Amid Christmas preparations, the province’s future remains uppermost in many minds – not least in Mitrovica, a town divided between Kosovo’s minority Serbs and the ethnic Albanian majority.

For now, Kosovo’s sovereignty remains with Serbia, although the province has been run by the UN and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers since Serbian forces were driven out in 1999.

However 2008 could bring major changes, giving Christmas a special significance for this Orthodox community.

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