Kosovo: UN Warns of Poll Violence

UN Kosovo chief fears disturbances in advance of controversial election later this year.

Kosovo: UN Warns of Poll Violence

UN Kosovo chief fears disturbances in advance of controversial election later this year.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The head of the UN in Kosovo is warning there could be more political violence in the run-up to elections in November but insists the ballot, and particularly the participation of Kosovo Serbs, is essential to a longer term improvement in the security of the province.

"Participation in the elections will be part of the process to change the security situation here, " Hans Haekkerup, special representative of the UN secretary general and the head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, told IWPR in an interview.

Most Serbs oppose the election of a parliament and president for Kosovo, currently an international protectorate. Demographics dictate that any assembly will inevitably be Albanian-dominated. Serbs view this as further consolidation of Albanian power and a first step to independence, which they vehemently oppose.

Until recently, only a few thousand Kosovo Serbs had registered to vote in the election on November 17, but following appeals by the Serbian government and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the number has risen to around 100,000 - about half the total number of Kosovo Serbs. If all eligible Serbs vote, they could elect up to 30 representatives in the 120-seat parliament.

"The big question, of course, is about the Kosovo Serbs' participation in the elections - the interest in the first phase of the electoral process, the registration of voters, has gone quite well, " Haekkerup said. " But it happened only after the leaders in Belgrade came out in support of registration. The next question is will they come out in support of participation of Serbs in the elections.

"The only way to change the general security in Kosovo is by changing the political climate, and that means Serb participation in the institutions that we create."

The former Danish defence minister warned of possible disturbances in the run-up to the elections. "There is a risk that political violence will increase. One cannot rule that out. But I think that the experience shows that this will only happen to some extent."

But he added, "There are a lot of good people out here who want to have a multinational community where different communities can live side-by-side. There are some extremists who don't want that, but we have to have a process where people's attitude changes. There were a lot of atrocities committed here. I think time is on our side, but only if we do the right things.

"The whole idea about these elections and provisional self-government institutions is also to bring different politicians from different communities together, and work together on solving the day-to-day problems of the population of Kosovo. So, it is not a goal in itself, it is part of the process to change what is inside people's heads, and that will change the general security situation."

Haekkerup said that in terms of security, there was a limit to even what 40 or 50 thousand KFOR soldiers and 10 thousand police officers could do.

"What we are trying to do is pass the necessary legislation and get the necessary capabilities to fight terrorists, organised crime, illegal border crossing, illegal weapons possession, protection of witnesses and so on, more effectively," he said.

Haekkerup welcomed the increased support and the supply of information from the population of Kosovo, saying UNMIK was very popular. "I just have to walk down the streets in Pristina and people are very kind. We interact with the politicians. The municipal elections were a very important step, because they had to choose in which direction they want to live. I think they are very tired of the people who came in with the KLA. The majority voted for the old parallel structure of Mr Rugova."

He denied that the recently-formed Serb Protection Force reflected deepening divisions in Kosovo. "This is a civil emergency organisation, and nothing more than that: they will deal with the civil emergency tasks, operating from Gracanica," he said.

Haekkerup said security in Kosovo was very high and he had no plans to

change arrangements following the recent attacks in the US. "Actually, you should take a look at Kosovo and see how stable it has been during the developments in the Presevo valley and the Macedonian crisis," he said. "Politicians have been rather moderate, coming out condemning Albanian terrorists in western Macedonia."

Saso Ordanoski is IWPR coordinating editor in Macedonia.

Macedonia, Kosovo
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