Milosevic plans to include Kosovo in Yugoslav elections

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia - Caught between the United States and European powers, Kosovo s chief U.N. administrator consulted with Western diplomats Thursday on President Slobodan Milosevic s surprise plans to allow Kosovo Serbs to vote in Yugoslav elections.

Milosevic s plans added a new element of volatility to already high political tensions and security concerns in the province.

Washington opposes including Kosovo in the Sept. 24 elections, while European governments are not as adamant, pointing out that Kosovo formally remains part of Yugoslavia, even if presently run by NATO and the United Nations, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The officials did not specify why the Americans were opposed, but security concerns were one possible reason the province remains a violent place, more than a year after Milosevic s forces pulled out and NATO and the United Nations moved in, with politically and ethnically motivated killings a daily occurrence.

With Kosovo Albanians rejecting any association with Yugoslavia, any plans to include the province in the Yugoslav parliamentary and presidential elections is a sure recipe for violence against Serbs and voting facilities.

Additionally, the move by Milosevic could be an attempt to gain popularity by showing Serbs outside the province that Kosovo remains part of their republic, which makes up Yugoslavia along with Montenegro. Many Serbs blame the Yugoslav president for losing Kosovo to the United Nations and NATO.

Despite widespread opposition to Milosevic among Kosovo Serbs, it is feared that in the absence of independent monitors he could manipulate results in his favor.

The plan would open about 500 polling stations in the troubled southern province for the Sept. 24 elections. The United Nations is preparing to hold local elections in Kosovo on Oct. 28.

In a further attempt to show Kosovo remains part of Serbia, and Yugoslavia, a top aide to Milosevic said the president planned to visit Kosovo.

Milosevic, who is wanted on war crimes charges, would face immediate arrest if he were to travel to the province. The aide, Nikola Sainovic, declined to tell reporters when Milosevic planned to go.

The loss of Kosovo is believed to be one of the reasons for the reported decline in Milosevic s popularity. He faces a strong challenge in the presidential race from an opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, who has a strong lead in opinion polls.

Commenting on the Yugoslav election plan Wednesday, U.N. administrator Bernard Kouchner said he had not received any notice from Belgrade. And he suggested that any vote would have to be Kosovo-wide, including majority ethnic Albanians, all Milosevic opponents.

Do they want to have elections only in Serb enclaves? That is impossible, he said.

Thousands of Serbs fled the province when Yugoslav troops and police withdrew in June 1999 after NATO s 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia.

The Serbs who stayed have been attacked by armed ethnic Albanians seeking to drive the remaining 100,000 Serbs from the province.

A visiting top European Union diplomat said on Thursday that in principle, the elections could be held, but also expressed concern about security.

The principle of elections is a principle we defend, Javier Solana, Secretary General of the European Union Council, told reporters in Pristina. Everybody has the right to vote, and of course we are not going to oppose anybody to vote.

U.N. spokeswoman Susan Manuel said Kouchner was expected to announce a decision Friday.

Both Kosovo Albanian politicians and moderate Kosovo Serbs opposed to Milosevic denounced the election plans.

We are not going to support this elections because we think that they are going to be manipulated by Milosevic s regime, Sava Janjic, an Orthodox monk and moderate leader of Kosovo Serbs told a reporter.



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