Milosevic challenges UN by planning Kosovo poll

Gillian Sandford

Thursday August 31, 2000

Belgrade - A senior official of Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist party threw down the gauntlet to the international community with a surprise visit to Kosovo yesterday, where she declared that Belgrade would set up polling stations in the Serb province for next month's Yugoslav elections.

Gorica Gajevic, general secretary of the party, told a crowd of pro-Milosevic Serbs that 500 polling stations would be set up in the Serb enclaves for polling in the federal and presidential elections on September 24.

She also pledged that 200 flats would be built in Kosovo for returning Serb refugees.

Bernard Kouchner, the head of Kosovo's UN administration, immediately dismissed the polling promise. "If they want to have elections in Serb enclaves, that's impossible," he said.

Mr Kouchner plans to hold separate local elections within the province a month after Yugoslavia votes in the local, parliamentary and presidential poll.

Ms Gajevic's move effectively calls the international community's bluff, for UN resolution 1244 and the technical-military agreement signed in Kumanovo before the pullout of Serb troops in June last year state that Kosovo remains a part of Yugoslavia.

However, the return of some Serb forces to the region, as envisaged in the Kumanovo agreement, has not yet happened

Many Serbs unofficially admit that Kosovo is lost to Serbia. Even the opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica says that it should stay under UN administration for the time being.

Ms Gajevic's visit signals Belgrade's intent to make Kosovo an election issue and exploit the ambiguity over its status for propaganda.

Tomorrow the Yugoslav army will hold exercises of a new Kosovo unit currently based in southern Serbia.

A Belgrade analyst, Bratislav Grubacic, said the state media would probably cover the manoeuvres and announce that the unit was returning to Kosovo. A poll of Serbs in Kosovo could be a fertile area for voting fraud, he said.

An opposition party leader, Professor Zarko Korac, president of the Social Democratic Union, said: "It's another sign of the confusion in Kosovo. The whole point is: who will organise elections?"

He said that opposition politicians had unsuccesfully pressed European governments to support elections in Kosovo at the same time as those in the rest of Yugoslavia. Now Mr Milosevic's party had taken up the theme and would organise the poll.

Original article