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Yugoslavia: Serbs Prepare To Vote In Kosovo Elections

The international community and authorities in Belgrade are urging Kosovo's Serbian community to vote in the 17 November elections. As RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson was in Pristina yesterday to urge Kosovo voters to cast their ballots.

Prague, 9 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson says Kosovo's Serbs should take part in the province's upcoming elections "because their future is at stake on the 17th of November as well as everybody else's."

Robertson, on a one-day visit to Kosovo yesterday, noted that NATO's 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 was meant "to stop the creation of a mono-ethnic Kosovo." NATO, he added, "will not tolerate the creation of another mono-ethnic state."

Kosovo is under NATO-led occupation by 38,000 peacekeepers and is currently jointly administered by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and local political leaders.

Robertson praised the agreement concluded on 5 November between UNMIK and Belgrade authorities defining their relationship.

Kosovar Albanian political leaders were not involved in the negotiations and have roundly denounced the deal as "unacceptable." The deal refers, among other things, to the right of displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes and to live in safety.

The Serbian government yesterday called on all Kosovo Serbs to accept Kostunica's appeal and participate in the elections. The Serbian government also appealed to all political parties "to respect the electoral process and democratic rules and to be aware of the importance of reasons of state and of the interests of Serbia and Yugoslavia."

Yugoslavia's minister for national minorities, Rasim Ljajic, opened the campaign to urge Serbs and other non-Albanians to vote in the Kosovo elections.

"The candidate lists represent the whole political spectrum, which could be an additional motive for a large or even massive voter turnout on November 17."

Ljajic also announced figures on registered Serbian voters for the Kosovo elections.

"In Serbia and Montenegro, 105,000 voters are registered while in Kosovo, 85,000 [Serbs and Montenegrins] are registered. The success of this campaign depends not only on the participation of the Serbs in Kosovo's parliament, but in their participation in all institutions of authority."

Serbia's secretariat for refugees signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this week with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), providing for 177 Kosovo polling stations in rump Serbia, with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring the voting process.

That deal led Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the Yugoslav and Serbian governments one week ago to agree to support Serbian participation in the elections.

Kostunica, in an open letter this week to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said he expects the Yugoslav-UNMIK relationship "to deepen after November 17, when direct partnership in resolving open issues will be secured through the activities of a high-ranking working group, as provided for in the joint document."

Serbia's ruling DOS coalition has chosen the former rector of Pristina University, Gojko Savic, to lead the Kosovo Serb "Povratak" ("Return") candidate list. The list comprises mainly candidates affiliated with Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia and presidential envoy for Kosovo Nebojsa Covic's Democratic Alternative, as well as other members of Belgrade's ruling DOS coalition.

Povratak is a broad coalition intended to unify Kosovo's Serbs to end the exodus of non-Albanians from the province and to ensure their return. It also calls for full security and freedom of movement for all non-Albanians in the provinces, resolving the fate of missing and kidnapped persons, and the return of property to non-Albanians.

Kosovo Serb activist Momcilo Trajkovic said yesterday that he has dropped the idea of leading a campaign to boycott the elections.

In an interview this week with the Belgrade daily "Borba," Covic declared "the struggle for Kosovo has begun," and that while Serbia had been on the verge of losing the province, "democratization and homogenization" can now secure Kosovo. He said that Belgrade has a clearly defined state policy toward Kosovo that he says must remain secret because it is in the national and state interests.

The head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, Daan Everts, told reporters in Pristina yesterday he hopes the Serbs who are elected will be loyal and will not obstruct the future parliament. He said they could become the second-strongest party in parliament: "if there is a good voter turnout among the Serbs, apart from the guaranteed 10 seats, they could win an additional 12 seats and thus influence the work of parliament." The legislature will have 120 seats, of which 10 are preassigned to Serbs and 10 to other non-Albanian minorities.

After meeting local leaders and international administrators, NATO Secretary-General Robertson reiterated to reporters that the international community is committed to a multiethnic Kosovo.

"And I, for one, and NATO as an organization, will not tolerate the creation of another mono-ethnic state."

Robertson says the upcoming elections are the most important ever in the province, noting "Kosovo's destiny in many ways will be shaped by the outcome of this election."

He added: "the people of Kosovo deserve better than they had in history -- they've got the chance, the opportunity -- for the first time in history -- to make a decision about making sure that their children's futures are secured."

Robertson added, "The time for violence has ended and the time for building a prosperous community here has come."

"I've met the leaders of the political parties and I'm glad that the election campaign is being conducted with dignity."

Kosovar Albanian political leaders, despite their anger over the UNMIK-Belgrade deal, tried to put a positive spin on the meeting.

Democratic League of Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova said, "NATO and the international community are interested in a good, democratic, and free future for Kosovo. It's normal that our request stands that Kosovo's independence is an existential issue -- to be or not to be."

And the Alliance for Kosovo's Ramush Haradinaj said Robertson confirmed that NATO has no intention of withdrawing from the province.

"NATO will stay in Kosovo. Robertson said they will be in Kosovo and the rest of the region in the future."

Arsim Bajrami, an aide to Democratic Party leader Hashim Thaci, said the meeting confirmed that Kosovo and Serbia remain neighbors rather than a single entity, as many Serbs would prefer.