UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen has pledged to focus on improving interethnic relations following Saturday's parliamentary elections in Kosovo. Western officials stress that a Serb boycott of the vote will not deter efforts towards resolving the province's final status.
(VOA, RFE/RL - 26/10/04; UN, AP, Reuters, UPI, BBC, RFE/RL, Radio B92 - 25/10/04)
UNMIK chief Søren Jessen-Petersen (centre) and OSCE Head of Mission Ambassador Pascal Fieschi (left) visit the Central Election Commission Counting Centre in Pristina on Sunday (24 October). [Afrim Hajrullahu]
One of the key post-election priorities in Kosovo should be to ensure more harmonious relations between the province's ethnic communities, UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen said Monday (25 October). Describing Saturday's vote for Kosovo's 120-seat parliament as a "turning point" for the UN-run province, he said it had highlighted the need for a "dramatic improvement" in conditions for Kosovo Serbs.
Fewer than 1 per cent of the Kosovo Serbs took part in the province's second parliamentary elections since the end of the 1998-1999 conflict. Citing security concerns following the mid-March riots, Belgrade officials and the Serbian Orthodox Church urged the community to boycott the poll.
Hours after the vote, Jessen-Petersen said some Kosovo Serbs who were willing to cast a ballot were deprived of their democratic right to vote because of intimidation from others within their community. "There are clearly those, both in Belgrade and among the church, who are determined to block any effort ... to create a multiethnic society that is safe and secure for everyone," he said in an interview with Reuters on Monday. "Their point is to prove that a multiethnic Kosovo is impossible."
Despite their scarce participation, Kosovo Serbs will be represented in the province's assembly, in which 20 seats are reserved for ethnic minorities. Half are for Serbs, who make up about 10 per cent of Kosovo's population of roughly 2 million.
"We must now work with the legitimate representatives of all communities, and we must also reach out to those who decided not to vote or who felt intimidated not to cast their ballots," the UNMIK chief said, calling also for swift formation of a new government once the results are finalised.
The vote was won by pro-independence Kosovo Albanian parties. Updated preliminary results on Monday showed the party of President Ibrahim Rugova, the Democratic League of Kosovo, in the lead with 45 per cent of the vote. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo was second with 28 per cent of the vote and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo was third, with 8 per cent of the vote. Ora, a new civic initiative led by publisher Veton Suroi, was fourth with 6.26 per cent. Unofficially, turnout is estimated at 51 per cent.
"We must listen to the voices of those who voted, and respect their verdict," Jessen-Petersen said in a statement. "Kosovo and its people are the winners."
The international community plans to launch talks on determining Kosovo's final status provided a review scheduled for mid-2005 shows the province has made substantial progress in meeting UN-set benchmarks in areas such as the rule of law, minority rights and dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.
Voicing regret over the low Serb turnout on Saturday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said this should not delay the evaluation planned for next year. "I don't think that we should change the aims we had … prior to the election," he said, following an EU-NATO meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Also Monday, US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli described Kosovo's elections as "generally free and fair", but added that the administration was deeply disappointed with the Serb boycott and the fact that some politicians had discouraged people from voting.