A senior UN peacekeeping official says there has been a strong response from ethnic Albanians registering to vote in the planned municipal elections in Kosovo. But few Serbs have registered, causing concern that the elections will be seriously flawed. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 14 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo's first democratic elections appear destined to exclude the important Serbian minority amid the continuing ethnic-based violence in the UN-run province.
Saturday (tomorrow) is the deadline for voter registration. A senior UN peacekeeping official, Hedi Annabi, reported to the Security Council on Thursday that the response of the ethnic Albanian majority has been encouraging both in Kosovo and among Kosovo Albanians abroad.
Annabi said more than 810,000 Kosovo Albanians have been registered locally, and an additional 50,000 abroad, with tens of thousands of applications pending. But he said Kosovo Serbs and another minority, Kosovo's ethnic Turks, are not participating in the process.
Serbs have said they will not participate in the elections while they remain the target of almost daily attacks by ethnic Albanians. And they note that their strength as a voting bloc has been severely diminished, as more than 150,000 Serbs have been forced out of Kosovo by fear of vengeance from ethnic Albanians.
At Thursday's Security Council session, the Russian and Chinese UN representatives said the attacks on Serbs appear systematic. Both expressed concern that ethnic Albanian attackers have not been punished and questioned whether the planned elections could be called free and fair.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said the holding of elections "at all costs" could lead a surge in ethnic Albanian extremism.
"We are not against the holding of such elections in principle, but ... not even a minimum of the necessary conditions has been reached for holding free, fair and democratic elections," he said.
If the Serbs do end up boycotting the elections, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, is ready to appoint Serbs to the Kosovo municipal councils. Kouchner's head of civil administration, Tom Koenigs, says that under a draft law, Serbs and members of other minorities could be appointed to municipal assemblies to represent their communities' concerns.
The elections are expected to take place in October. The UN peacekeeping official, Annabi, said any final announcement will come only after Kouchner and Secretary-General Kofi Annan have considered all the issues.
"In making that determination and setting the date, they will of course pay careful attention to all aspects, including, of course, security conditions and all other aspects that may disrupt the holding of a credible and fair election," Annabi said.
Annabi appealed to Security Council members to call for an end to the violence in Kosovo and create a more stable environment for elections.
The deputy U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, James Cunningham, praised the efforts of the UN mission and NATO to limit the violence, ranging from controls on Albanian-language press to seeking to engage the Serb population in administrative efforts.
"The level of violence remains unacceptable. We regret it. We want it stopped. But we shouldn't be surprised. As we have all come to understand, there are no quick and easy fixes, just the continued requirement to seek progress," Cunningham said.
But the UN mission remains plagued by shortages in manpower, especially in police. It is a problem cited repeatedly by Kouchner in his periodic visits to New York headquarters.
One of the temporary members of the Security Council, Ukraine, on Wednesday expressed frustration with the slow pace of the UN Secretariat. Ukraine's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Valeri Kuchynski, said Ukraine offered 150 special police for the Kosovo contingent several weeks ago. But he said there have been repeated delays in sending the force.
"We are really disappointed by the inconsistency of the UN Secretariat in tackling this issue, which is incompatible with the urgent need for police personnel in Kosovo, as was confirmed by Mr. Annabi today. We call on the Secretariat to re-address this matter as soon as possible," he said.
Annabi said in response that deployments of international forces can be complicated because they often involve coordination between a number of nations. He said he regrets the