Kosovo's Rugova calls YU election move provocation

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, Sep 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) Ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on Friday branded plans by Yugoslav authorities to hold federal elections in Kosovo a provocation.

Rugova, leader of the largest political party representing Kosovo's Albanian majority, said only the province's United Nations-led administration had the right to organize elections.

"It's a provocation for Kosovo," Rugova told reporters after a regular meeting between local leaders and Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

"UNMIK has all the rights to make decisions for Kosovo, according to all national and international documents," added Rugova, president of the Democratic League of Kosovo party.

Kouchner has so far given no public response to this week's announcement by Yugoslav officials that federal presidential and parliamentary polls on September 24 will also be held in Kosovo.

The province legally remains part of Yugoslavia but has been under de facto international rule since June of last year, when Serb forces withdrew after 78 days of NATO bombing.

The move leaves the West in a dilemma - try to ban elections in a territory where it fought to establish democracy or sanction a poll which could be flawed, spark violence and keep Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in power.

UN officials said Kouchner did not want to play into Belgrade's hands by responding immediately to the announcement, which they see as a ploy by Milosevic to raise tension, when Yugoslav authorities have not even notified UNMIK of the plans.

But Kouchner has made clear several times that he does not see how free, fair and safe Yugoslav elections could be organized within such a short timeframe in the volatile and sometimes chaotic environment of post-war Kosovo.

UNMIK officials acknowledged that the mission would have to come up with a position within the next few days and suggested a statement might come after European Union foreign ministers had discussed the issue at a weekend meeting in Evian, France.

But even if, as seems likely, UNMIK decides not to sanction the elections, international officials admit they could still face a major security problem as they will not be able to physically stop the polls taking place in Serb enclaves.

Any electioneering by Serbian politicians and voting in Yugoslav elections is likely to enrage ethnic Albanians, who suffered years of repression inside Serb-dominated Yugoslavia and believe the territory should be completely independent.

An indication of that anger came on Friday when ethnic Albanian politicians voiced outrage that officials from Milosevic's Socialist Party were able to come to the Kosovo town of Gracanica on Wednesday and announce the election plan.

"They are leaders of a party which organized four wars in former Yugoslavia and has committed criminal acts and we expressed our surprise that they could come to Gracanica," said Rexhep Qosja, head of Kosovo's United Democratic Movement.

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