Belgrade's poll plan a farce, says UN's man in Kosovo

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The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday described as a "farce" Belgrade's decision to hold federal elections in the ethnic Albanian-dominated province.

The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday described as a "farce" Belgrade's decision to hold federal elections in the ethnic Albanian-dominated province.

On Wednesday, officials from Milosevic's Socialist party held a rally in the Kosovan Serb enclave of Gracanica, where they announced that Kosovo's Serbs would be able to vote in the Yugoslav elections next month after 500 polling centres were set up in Serb enclaves in the war-torn province.

Mr Kouchner said: "This is a farce, it's not linked to democracy, but on the contrary to a provocation. This is impossible for us in such a short period of time." Asked whether Kosovo's Serbs would be able to vote on 24 September, Mr Kouchner would only say that if he received a formal request, then he would consider an answer.

"Let them come, why didn't they come and ask me?" he said, describing the action as "not far from" a deliberate provocation. Theoretically, he said, they could vote but with only three weeks before the elections, security could not be assured.

Given that Belgrade had just announced that President Milosevic, indicted as a war criminal by The Hague, is planning to visit Kosovo, the issue of whether Serbs can vote in Kosovo is the only latest confrontation between Kosovo and Serbia, a battle that still continues more than a year after Nato's troops rolled into the southern Serbian province.

The UN has made clear that Mr Milosevic, indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal for the actions of his forces in Kosovo, would be arrested if he came to the province. "He can come and he'll be arrested," a UNspokeswoman said.

Any campaigning by Serb politicians is likely to enrage Albanians and prompt more of the violence meted out to minority Serbs by Albanians in the 14 months since Nato and the UN took over in Kosovo.

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