Unease and bitterness surround Kosovo poll

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The first democratic elections in Kosovo took place yesterday with little public joy and celebration. Instead, the mood was subdued and uneasy. As officials of the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe struggled to cope with the often-chaotic scenes at polling stations, the Nato-led international military force was preparing for the outbreak of violence they expect in the aftermath of the voting.

The first democratic elections in Kosovo took place yesterday with little public joy and celebration. Instead, the mood was subdued and uneasy. As officials of the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe struggled to cope with the often-chaotic scenes at polling stations, the Nato-led international military force was preparing for the outbreak of violence they expect in the aftermath of the voting.

There were no early reports of major trouble as, under army and police supervision, Kosovo Albanians turned out to choose from the candidates of 19 political parties. But there was widespread fear that this would change once the results began to come in. Many of those facing the prospect of defeat are former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. They, it was felt, would be unwilling to surrender their positions, which had often been used to profit from criminality.

Officials of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) - in effect the KLA reinvented - have taken control of many influential posts. The party, which is likely to get only around 22 per cent of the votes, will be expected to hand over many of these posts to Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) party, which stands to gain around 48 per cent. The French-educated Mr Rugova, a pacifist, is loathed by the former fighters of the KLA, who accuse him of selling out to the Belgrade regime.

People are also becoming aware of other potential clashes. According to the UN, the election is a multi-cultural and municipal one. However, most of the 100,000 remaining Serbs in Kosovo have boycotted the poll, and the Albanians who made up the overwhelming majority of the 900,000 electorate are adamant that this is not a local matter but a first step towards independence. All the main parties in the election seek a break with Yugoslavia. But they are aware that the West is preparing to come to a deal with the new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. UN and Nato officials have stressed that UN Resolution 1244 implicitly recognises the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. This has led to anger against the UN and Nato and disaffection among the Kosovo Protection Corps - former-KLA members trained and armed by Nato as a police force.

Among the crowd at a polling centre in the capital, Pristina, Hakim Berashi was clear about the future. "This election is for a free Kosovo; it is not about some local government. And it is the PDK who fought the Serbs to get us here, not Rugova, who smiled and shook hands with Milosevic." Standing next to him, Fatmir Rexhali said: "Serbs have got no place in free Kosovo after what they did here. They should get back to their own country."

At Kosovo Polje, a Serb enclave four miles away which is seen as the historic birthplace of Serbia by Mr Kostunica as well as Mr Milosevic, Dragan Bobic was also bitter. "This is just something between the mafia leaders the Albanians call their politicians. This is a part of Yugoslavia," he said, "and this election is illegal."

Comments