US says Serbs in Kosovo should be able to vote

TIRANA, Sep 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) A U.S. envoy said there needed to be a way to allow Serbs in Kosovo to vote in this month's Yugoslav election without undermining the UN's authority in the de facto international protectorate.

Robert Frowick, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's representative for elections in the Balkans, said the West had to balance two major considerations when looking at plans by Yugoslav authorities to hold federal polls in Kosovo.

"On the one hand there needs to be some way - to respect because of the democratic tradition - some way of enabling all eligible citizens to vote in the elections in Serbia," Frowick told reporters in the Albanian capital Tirana late on Friday.

"But Kosovo is a very special case now because of the conflict last year and the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which gives the international community, UNMIK (the UN mission in Kosovo), so much authority during this transition period."

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

Officials from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists held a surprise rally in the Kosovo town of Gracanica on Wednesday and announced that the presidential and parliamentary polls on September 24 would be held in the province.

The move has left international officials in a dilemma over whether to ban elections in a province where they fought to establish democracy or risk sanctioning a poll which could be seriously flawed and spark violence.

Frowick did not say how Washington favored allowing the Serbs to vote - by letting Yugoslav authorities to set up polling stations inside Kosovo or by helping Serbs inside Kosovo to travel to polling stations in Serbia proper.

He stressed any electioneering would have to take place with "the clear understanding that UNMIK is in control within Kosovo...and will be absolutely determined to respect democratic norms in any electoral activities there".

The UN mission in Kosovo, headed by Frenchman Bernard Kouchner, has so far not given a public response to the announcement by Yugoslav officials.

Electioneering by Serbian politicians in Kosovo and voting in Yugoslav elections is likely to enrage members of the ethnic Albanian majority, who suffered years of state-backed repression and believe the territory should be completely independent.

Frowick also said preparations for Kosovo's own municipal elections on October 28 looked promising but the U.S. was concerned about the potential for politically motivated violence.

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