Kosovo Serbs unlikely to vote in YU elections

PRISTINA, Aug 10, 2000 -- (AFP) Despite their continuing attachment to their Yugoslav identity, Kosovo's Serbs are unlikely to turn out in any great number to vote in September's elections in federal Yugoslavia.

Both Serbian hardliners who have refused to cooperate with the province's UN administration and moderate Serbs seeking a future outside the orbit of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Belgrade regime are opposed to polling being conducted in Kosovo.

Belgrade itself has made no attempt to set up voting stations in the province, and the United Nations has no plans to help them do so.

For the first time in several months, Kosovo's rival strands of Serbian opinion are speaking with a single voice: there can be no elections until Kosovo Serbs can live in safety and enjoy freedom of movement.

Milosevic has called legislative and presidential elections for September 24. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo, while under UN administration, is still part of the federal republic and its citizens could therefore be expected to vote.

"We will not stop anyone from voting but we will not call on them to vote either," Father Sava Janjic, the spokesman for Bishop Artemije Radosaljevic, the president of the Serbian National Council (SNV), told a news conference.

Artemije's SNV is an umbrella political group representing Serbian interests in Kosovo, where Serbs form a minority. It is seen as aligned with the Serbian opposition against Milosevic.

"The conditions for free elections can not be met here, where we lack freedom of movement and thought," Sava said.

The SNV's moderate line is often opposed by Oliver Ivanovic, the hardline leader of a rival SNV branch based in northern Mitrovica, but on this subject the two sides agree.

"Personally I am against any elections being held before better security is in place for our people and Serbian refugees begin to return," Ivanovic told AFP.

A meeting of his branch will be held on Friday to adopt an official position, Ivanovic added, but he said he expected them to follow his line.

Since a bitter civil war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslav forces ended in June 1999, around two thirds of Kosovo's Serbs have fled the province, leaving around 100,000.

Many of those 100,000 now live in enclaves and are regularly the victims of ethnically motivated attacks, despite the presence of the 43,000-strong KFOR multinational peacekeeping force.

Kosovo's Albanian population has boycotted all federal polls since Belgrade suppressed its autonomous status in 1989.

"It is probable that some people would like to prove their belonging to the federal state by taking part in the elections," Sava said.

"But Bishop Artemije has said that in federal elections where one federal unit (Montenegro) is not taking part and in which there are no free and acceptable conditions in force, it is very hard to expect that these elections will be free at all.

"Some Serbs here feel under pressure because Belgrade pays their salaries or their pensions ... Milosevic will certainly try and use his Kosovo gold mine again," he added.

Any Serbs who do decide to vote will have to cross the administrative boundary with Serbia to do so.

"The Yugoslavian government has said that it does not plan to hold federal elections in Kosovo because it's an 'occupied state'," UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel said.

Polling stations will be opened in southern Serbia for Kosovo Serbs. Three electoral districts have been transferred from the province to the Serbian towns of Vranje and Prokuplhe, strongholds of Milosevic's Socialist Party.

The United Nations has organised its own elections in Kosovo, a municipal poll to be held in October, but Serbs are not expected to take part, having massively boycotted the registration process.

"It's going to be a hot Balkan autumn," Sava warned.

Original article