Kosovo's 'Serbian Affair'

Kosovo Albanians say they have little interest in Sunday elections, but the UN is preparing for trouble

Kosovo's 'Serbian Affair'

Kosovo Albanians say they have little interest in Sunday elections, but the UN is preparing for trouble

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

"Serb elections?! They mean nothing to us ," said one young Albanian journalist in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovice.

"Kosovo's not part of Serbia anymore," said his colleague. "We're only here to find out what [Dr. Bajram] Rexhepi ( the mayor of the Albanian-dominated southern part of Mitrovice) is doing in his election campaign" - a referenc to the UN-sponsored Kosovo local elections on October 28.

Kosovo Albanians regard this Sunday's Yugoslav election as a Serbian affair. Indeed, Albanians are only interested in the September 24 poll in so far as it affects the future prospects for Kosovo. Some believe the re-election of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would be a good omen.

"Every one knows who Milosevic is - a war criminal," one young Albanian shopper said. "If he wins the international community will put Serbia under more pressure and Kosovo's road to independence would be easier.

"Serbs still haven't understood what sort of a person is running their country. So let them pay the consequences, they deserve it."

Most Albanians also believe Milosevic's main rival Vojislav Kostunica has little more to offer when it comes to the Kosovo issue.

Prominent Kosovar Shkelzen Maliqi said the best result for the Albanians would be Yugoslavia's expulsion from the United Nations. "This would annul Resolution 1244 and with it Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo," Maliqi said.

While Albanians have little interest in the elections, UN officials fear the poll could spark trouble. Security has been tightened, especially in the divided town of Mitrovice. One official confirmed French troops had increased patrols in the northern Serbian dominated part of the town.

UNMIK administrator Bernard Kouchner has called Belgrade's decision to hold federal elections in the province a "farce" and a "provocation". Although Kouchner cannot prevent the polls going ahead, he has refused to help organise the ballot.

But Kouchner said UNMIK and K-For personnel would be watching for any signs of ballot rigging and electoral fraud.

Additional NATO troops began arriving in Kosovo on September 20. And on Monday British and Swedish K-For troops raided premises in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica, arresting three suspects and confiscating a cache of explosives, detonators and weapons.

Two of three men are believed to be members of a Yugoslav army special forces unit based in Nis.

International officials in Mitrovice say they are fully aware a large number of Yugoslav army and secret police are operating in the north of the town and other Serb enclaves in Kosovo.

NATO makes no bones about the fact its forces cannot hermetically seal the border between Kosovo and Serbia. Repeated warnings from Belgrade that Yugoslav troops will return to the province are dismissed as bluster, but clandestine infiltration into the province is genuine, NATO sources say.

Like the Albanians community after it lost its autonomy in 1989, Kosovo Serbs will be voting at 300 makeshift polling stations, probably in private homes dotted around the Serb enclaves.

Some 200 UNMIK, OSCE and police will keep and eye on voters at 112 polling stations in northern Mitrovice. As well as watching out for trouble, they will try to assess whether the Belgrade resorts to electoral fraud.

Llazar Semini is IWPR's Project Manager in Kosovo.

Serbia, Kosovo
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