UN unaware of YU polling plans in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Sep 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav officials have told the United Nations nothing about their plans to set up 300 polling stations in UN-administered Kosovo for crucial elections in six days, a UN official said on Monday.

Belgrade has made no requests to the NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, to protect Serb voters from possible ethnic Albanian violence, and given no hint of when ballot boxes and officials will arrive or where they will be set up, it added.

UN and KFOR officials said they were not concerned by the lack of information and denied that the UN's hands-off policy towards what the West says will be a crooked election could increase the security risk they acknowledge it may pose.

"We haven't been informed on this. It's up to Belgrade to decide how many polling stations they'll need," UN spokeswoman Claire Trevena told a regular briefing in Pristina.

A Yugoslav election official, Peka Obradovic, was quoted on Monday in a Serbian newspaper as saying 300 polling stations would be established in Kosovo for the weekend ballot.

"No requests for security have been made," said KFOR spokesman Major Scott Slaten. "It's up to the Yugoslav officials if they want to drive (ballot) boxes into Kosovo."

"If a situation develops we will react. But we can't react to ifs and maybes," Slaten said. KFOR commanders were prepared for increased risks and had sufficient troops at the ready.


The major Western protecting powers in Kosovo believe Sunday's presidential and federal assembly elections will be manipulated to secure four more years for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has ruled for the past decade.

The UN strategy of ignoring the vote in Kosovo - apart from preventing violence - reflects conflicting aims: it does not want to recognize a fraudulent election, but it does not want to prevent polling, even if such a tactic were physically possible.

Kosovo has been an international protectorate since NATO forces entered in June 1999 after three months of air strikes against Yugoslavia. But legally Yugoslavia maintains sovereignty over the province and major powers have no relish for exchanging this for independence, as sought by the Albanian majority.

The West, attempting to bolster opposition to Milosevic, is promising the people of Serbia immediate aid if they vote the nationalist hard-liner out of office. At the same time, it concedes it can do nothing to stop massive fraud. Around 100,000 Serbs are estimated to remain in Kosovo, but the number of potential voters is anyone's guess.

Serb communities in the north of the province, where ethnic Albanians are few, are free to move about, and travel over the border of the province into Serbia proper, although controlled by NATO peacekeepers, is relatively simple.

Trevena said neither ballot boxes nor Serb officials would have any trouble entering, provided there were no weapons. The UN insists on four days' written notice from any election candidates seeking to campaign in Kosovo, but "polling stations in themselves don't pose any threat". Serbs in central and southern Kosovo live under the protection of KFOR, in enclaves surrounded by ethnic Albanians and prey to revenge attacks for mass killing in 1998-99.

Slaten said Kosovo Albanians should "stay home and ignore" the Yugoslav vote - which they will boycott en masse - but would be dealt with if they tried to attack polling stations.

Original article