Kosovo Albanians vote in municipal elections
publiziert: Samstag, 28. Okt 2000 / 12:45 Uhr

Pristina - About 900,000 people, nearly all of them ethnic Albanians, were expected to vote Saturday in internationally supervised municipal elections But minority Serbs largely boycott the ballot.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and are to close twelve hours later. But early voting was hampered by problems with voters' registers and a lack of signs directing voters where to cast their ballots. The province's estimated 80,000 Serbs fear the vote will only reinforce ethnic Albanian control over a province that Serbs consider the cradle of their culture. Only 1,001 Serbs registered by the October deadline. "This is proof of the disintegration of multiethnic Kosovo," prominent Kosovo Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic said Friday. "With this election, the international community is making a catastrophic mistake, which further divides the ethnic Albanians and the Serbs." Trajkovic said the United Nations should allow all non-Albanian Kosovars to "create their own organizations" through separate elections jointly administered with the Yugoslav government. Council members are to be elected in 30 municipalities. The ballot was being organized by the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In Pristina, the capital, and elsewhere actual voting started only after 8 a.m. The biggest problem early voters faced was finding the polling station where their name was registered. At 8:15 a.m. (0615 GMT), about 500 people were waiting outside a Pristina elementary school accommodating eight polling stations where voting was slowed by a lack of signs.

"It's not an inspiring start," said an international observer who didn't want to be named. "These problems should have been dealt with beforehand, and not this morning." Jeff Fischer, an OSCE official, spoke of "technical" problems. He said, "We are experiencing difficulties in several locations, but these problems are confined, identified and being addressed as we speak." He said turnout was "heavy." "I have come to vote for (moderate leader) Ibrahim Rugova and for Kosovo's independence," said 67-year-old Adem Ademi, who had come to vote one hour before the polling station opened because "I wanted to be the first to cast my vote for independence." Hashim Thaci, a former head of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation army, said after voting in Pristina, "I have full confidence that very soon the international community will be convinced that Kosovo should be given the right to independence." Albanian flags were displayed outside most of the polling stations. Rugova, the longtime moderate leader, said later, "`This is a big day for Kosovo. These are the first free elections in free Kosovo and they are an important step toward freedom, independence and democracy for Kosovo." But his wife, Fane, could not vote because officials could not find her name in the voters' lists. Election officials said preliminary results will not be known before Monday evening, but official results are expected in eight to twelve days. About 5,500 candidates from about 20 parties entered the races. U.S. and other NATO-led peacekeepers guarded the the 1,464 polling stations and about 5,500 foreign and local observers monitored the vote to try to prevent fraud. Ethnic Albanians consider the election a major step toward their dream of independence from Yugoslavia despite opposition _ not only from Belgrade but America and its allies. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since June 1999 when Yugoslav forces left following the 78-day NATO bombing campaign to punish then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for his crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists. However, the United Nations still recognizes Kosovo as a province of Yugoslavia's main republic Serbia. More than 90 percent of the province's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians. The rest are Serbs, Slavic Muslims, ethnic Turks and Gypsies. U.N. spokeswoman Susan Manuel said the Serbs themselves refused to participate in the election. The chief U.N. administrator, Bernard Kouchner, says he will appoint Serbs to municipal councils in Serb enclaves. Serb leaders reject the plan. "We have decided not to participate in the joint administration," said Trajkovic, adding that Serbs appointed by Kouchner would become "instruments in the hands of the Albanians." The race appears down to candidates from three parties headed by Rugova, Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, another former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Most surveys expect Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo to win the largest number of council seats.

(AP)

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