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Yugoslavia: Kouchner Says Kosovo Is Ready For Elections

The UN administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, says the result of elections in Yugoslavia last Sunday will lead to an improvement in the situation in Kosovo and the region. In remarks to the Security Council yesterday in New York, he also said Kosovo's municipal elections, set for next month, are on track. Council members in general approved of the polling plans. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 28 September (RFE/RL) -- For the UN officials responsible for running its protectorate in Kosovo, the events in Serbia are momentous.

At UN headquarters yesterday (Wednesday), the UN administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, briefed Security Council members and the Secretary-General on the province's municipal elections planned for late next month (Oct 28).

But it was Yugoslavia's general elections and the prospect of a change of government in Belgrade that loomed large over the discussions. Kouchner told reporters that for Kosovo's Albanians there is not much difference between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his opponent, Vojislav Kostunica. But he says the possible presidency of Kostunica would greatly improve the UN mission's ability to stabilize Kosovo.

"It will change for us and certainly for [the Serbs] a lot of things because it will be easier to talk to them, to open the door, to have open relations for reasons of common interests."

Kouchner's briefing focused on Kosovo's own election plans. They are marred by the non-participation of the minority Serbs, which Kouchner blamed on coercion by Serb leaders. Serbs say intimidation and attacks by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are the main reasons for their not participating.

But the registration of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians and pledges to include Serbs in elected assemblies have won praise from most Security Council members. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, complimented Kouchner for preparing the polls but devoted most of his comments to the Yugoslav elections.

Holbrooke said this is a historic moment for the Balkans. He pledged U.S. support for helping a new Yugoslav government integrate into the international community.

"We believe that time is running out. The brave voters of Serbia have now made it clear with their message of determination that they wish to end Yugoslavia's international isolation, rebuild its broken economy and form a government that is neither feared by nor fears its people."

Britain's ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, joined a number of other Council members in stressing the regional impact of a Milosevic defeat.

"The effect could be quickly felt in all communities in Kosovo if President Milosevic draws the correct conclusions from the turn of the tide."

The Russian and Chinese representatives on the Council did not mention the Yugoslav elections. Both repeated concerns that Kouchner's mission was creating too much autonomy for Kosovo and abusing its powers.

Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov also criticized the UN mission for failing to stop the violence committed against the non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo. He called for involving representatives of the Yugoslav government more in the administration of the province.

Lavrov also said it is time for the return of some Yugoslav military personnel, especially to border areas, as provided under the resolution creating the Kosovo protectorate. He cited attacks among Kosovar Albanian political parties in August as further proof of the lack of stability in the province.

"In practice what reigns in Kosovo is violence. Even Albanian political parties are subject to a campaign of blackmail and violence from elements of the former KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army)."

Kouchner rejected allegations that he had called for independence for Kosovo. And he urged the Council to provide clear guidelines on setting up a legal framework for the province, defining what form "substantial autonomy" in Kosovo will take after the elections are held a month from today.