Kosovo Albanian party calls for general elections

PRISTINA, Mar 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) An ethnic Albanian leader in Kosovo said Tuesday his party would stand in UN-sponsored elections in the province, but called for a wider poll than was being offered.

Bardhyl Mahmuti, vice-president of the Party for Democratic Progess in Kosovo (PPDK) told AFP his group would prefer general elections to be held before or at the same time as a municipal poll.

"We are in favor" of the elections, he said a day after the top UN official in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, announced in New York that the UN planned local elections in Kosovo this year.

Kouchner told a news conference he had found "a consensus" in favor of the municipal poll in Kosovo when he briefed the UN Security Council on Monday.

But Mahmuti stressed the province's 29 municipalities needed a common program and political coordination at a "national" level.

Serb leaders in Kosovo were unavailable for comment on the UN annoncement. Local leader Momcilo Trajkovic and Serb Orthodox Bishop Aretemije were due to meet Bulgarian officials in Sofia.

Belgrade has repeatedly warned it will not recognize any elections held in Kosovo, considering them a breach of Security Council resolution 1244, which led to deployment of an international peacekeeping force in the province.

But Mahmuti said the PPDK was completing its internal organization and campaign platform, ahead of a party congress in April.

He spoke before holding talks with other party leaders, including Hashim Thaci, the political head of the former Kosovo Liberation Army.

The PPDK, he said, "was fighting to democratize the country," adding that Serbs and other minorities in the province deserved equal rights but should not be favored by what he called "positive discrimination."

Imposing quotas or giving minority groups a greater representation than their relative percentage of the population merited, would be tantamount to such discrimination, he said.

He added that his party's platform would support equal rights for women and seek to eliminate child labor in Kosovo.

As he spoke, violence again flared in the divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where 16 French paratroopers and 20 others were wounded in grenade and sniper attacks in the Serb sector.

Mitrovica has been tense since early February when ethnic violence left at least 12 dead, and dozens injured, including French troops serving with the NATO-led peacekeeping force.

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