Kosovo politician kidnapped

PRISTINA, Jul 27, 2000 -- (AFP) A senior member of Kosovo's leading political party has been kidnapped by an unknown gang from in front of his house, a spokesman for the party said Wednesday.

Shaban Manaj, an ethnic Albanian member of Ibrahim Rugova's Kosovo Democratic League (LDK), was seized on Sunday in the western Kosovo town of Istok by a group of men in a BMW car, LDK vice-president Kole Berisha said.

The gang had arrived from the village of Leskovac, 2O miles (30 kilometers, south of Istok and had claimed to need Manaj's services as a lawyer, Berisha said.

"We've had no news of Shaban since Sunday," he said.

Rugova issued a statement condemning the kidnapping and demanding Manaj's immediate release.

A spokeswoman for Kosovo's UN administration said Wednesday that the alleged kidnapping was being investigated.

"All we know at the moment is that he is not at home," Susan Manuel told a Pristina news conference.

In October the UN administration plans to hold Kosovo's first municipal election since the end of the Yugoslav province's 1998-1999 civil war.

The head of the administration, Bernard Kouchner, has said that he fears there will be an increase in political violence ahead of the poll and the KFOR peacekeeping force in charge of security in the province has said it plans to increase its troop strength during the campaign.

A July 7 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based policy think-tank, said: "One of the most serious potential areas for abuse of the elections ... is intimidation of political parties and candidates, especially at local level."

The reports cites as an example the village of Srbica, 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Istok, where the LDK "described a climate of intimidation and harassment."

The LDK blames the intimidation on members of a rival ethnic Albanbian party, Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, and former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, of which Thaci was the political leader.

The PDK denies instigating intimidation, the ICG reports.

Rugova served as president in an unrecognized parallel government in Kosovo before the province's civil war.

A poll conducted by the KFOR peacekeeping force of 1,000 Kosovars in April this year found the LDK enjoyed around 47 percent support, compared to 14 percent for the PDK, the ICG report said.

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