Kosovo Serbs can vote without returning to region

PRISTINA, Mar 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbs who have fled Kosovo will not have to return to the province to register for local elections or vote in them, international officials said on Monday.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in charge of organising the elections expected later this year, said it would however need the cooperation of the Yugoslav government if displaced Kosovo Serbs are to take part.

Yugoslav authorities say more than 200,000 Serbs left Kosovo, mainly for Serbia proper, during and after NATO's bombing campaign last year carried out to end Serbian repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

Daan Everts, head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, said it was now up to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to decide whether he would allow Serbs to participate in the elections, which would take place probably sometime around October 1.

"It would be adding insult to injury if they were to be disenfranchised by Milosevic," the Dutch diplomat told a news conference to announce that Kosovo's United Nations-led administration was ready to begin registering the population.

Kosovo Albanians, embittered by years of repression under Milosevic, have exploited a law-and-order vacuum in many parts of post-war Kosovo to exact revenge on Serbs still living there.

The exodus of Serbs has left NATO and the United Nations open to the charge that, having intervened in Kosovo to prevent it being purged of Albanians by Serbian forces, they have stood by as the Albanians proceeded to purge the territory of Serbs.

Sensitive to the accusation, NATO and the U.N. have insisted they want all the Serbs to return to Kosovo and will not take any actions that would exclude them from the province.

International officials fear, however, that Belgrade may agree to let Kosovo Serbs in Serbia take part in the electoral process but would insist Yugoslav authorities supervise it. OSCE officials say this would not be acceptable.

The United Nations said the Kosovo registration process, which was postponed several times, would finally get under way next month.

Original article