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Kosovo Election Campaign Violence

Violence has marred preparations for Kosovo's critical local elections next month.
By Llazar Semini

The killings of two prominent Albanians have cast a pall over the start of campaigning for forthcoming municipal elections in Kosovo.


Local coverage of the election campaign, which kicked off with celebrations and large rallies on Wednesday, rapidly ground to a halt as local newspapers and radio stations held a day of silence on Friday to protest against the failure of the United Nations administration to stop a wave of violence in the province, which has claimed 1,100 lives since the end of the war last year.


The latest victims were Shefki Popova, a veteran local journalist, and Rexhep Luci, the director of the Department of Reconstruction and Housing in Pristina. Television journalist Marjan Mellonashi has been missing since last weekend.


Popova, 50, was a journalist for more than a quarter of a century for the Kosovo Albanian daily newspaper Rilindja and its radio station of the same name. He was shot dead on Sunday near the local government building in Vucitrn, 18 km (12 miles) from Pristina.


Luci, 58, an architect who has worked on a number of infrastructure projects in, was found dead in front of his apartment building on Monday with six bullet wounds to his chest.


Both are closely associated with the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, one of the favourites to win in October's forthcoming local elections.


Luci's death is widely considered to be linked to his involvement in a UN-led process to demolish illegally constructed buildings in Kosovo. A series of demolition orders were issued this month. UN officials said the buildings inspection process would not be slowed by Luci's murder.


In another incident, a fire bomber attacked the house Fatmir Pireci, the spokesman for the LDK in Prizren, southwestern Kosovo on Monday, a party official said, damaging the building but causing no injuries.


The seven Kosovo daily newspapers and six broadcasters, announcing their protest, complained that no one had been sentenced for any of the murders committed in the province since the war ended because of the inefficiency of judicial institutions. Police say arrests have been made in about 45 per cent of the cases.


"Until now the murders have been interpreted as political and ethnic violence because of the fact that perpetrators have not been found. Nevertheless Albanians have been qualified as blameworthy," they said in a joint statement.


The media appealed to international leaders to undertake institutional steps to stop violence, find and punish perpetrators and improve the efficiency of the police, prosecutors office and courts.


They said they would continue their protest against illegally built constructions and against inciting statements by politicians and the media itself. They asked for security for journalists and freedom of movement.


The recent wave of killings have raised concern among the international institutions running Kosovo that it could be involved in a continuous period of violence that will also be affected by elections in neighbouring countries, particularly the presidential election in Serbia.


As if to confirm their fears, supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic attacked his main presidential election rival in the Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica on Thursday, slightly injuring him. Opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica was slightly cut under his right eye and the deputy head of his party was bruised in the leg. Several cars in their convoy were damaged. Oliver Ivanovic, the influential leader of the Serb National Council in Mitrovica, is a self-declared opponent of Milosevic.


The NATO-led Kosovo Force, K-For, is bringing in four battalions with 2,400 troops from Britain, France, Italy and Greece for the elections to add to some 36,000 troops it has already deployed in the province.


The UN administration has said it does not recognise Serbia's September 24 election as it does not fulfill "reasonable international criteria" and will not organize any voting in Kosovo. But Serb leaders in Kosovo have said they will organize voting, even though they lack the necessary infrastructure to do so.


The Serbs however say they will boycott the Kosovo municipal elections a month later because of security problems. Only about 1,000 Serbs have registered to vote in the elections.


Preparations for the municipal elections are still under way. Election officials say there are about one million voters but the final list will not be concluded until the end of the month. There are some 5,500 candidates, including 1,363 women, running in 29 communes.


The OSCE has secured some 750 international supervisors and is looking for more. The Council of Europe will be leading the observers.


Security is likely to be a major election issue for all parties. United Nations Mission in Kosovo administrator Bernard Kouchner set the tone, when he told a rally on Wednesday launching the election campaign that it is time to build peace and democracy. "To all the militants and candidates I offer the support of the international community. But please, without violence, stop violence, stop killings," he said.


Llazar Semini is IWPR Project Director in Pristina.


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