Election comes off without a hitch
Sixteen months after NATO entered the province, Kosovar Albanians cast ballots in their first open and democratic election free of Communist or Serbian rule last Saturday, 28 October, in stark contrast to underground contests organized during boycotts of Serbian elections in the 1990s.
The man who led Kosovo's parallel government in the 1990s emerged the victor. Despite having been repeatedly declared a spent political force by Kosovar and international media alike, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) President Ibrahim Rugova led his party to victory in 21 of 27 contested municipalities, according to interim results released by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
The vast majority of the area's 80,000 Kosovar Serb inhabitants boycotted the vote, but there were no reports of violence or election fraud. The OSCE's early estimates pegged turnout at between 70 and 80 percent.
With close to 90 percent of the ballot papers counted, the OSCE's early results indicated at mid-week that Rugova's LDK had walked away with 58 percent of the votes against the 27 percent won by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Hashim Thaçi, the former political leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (UÇK).
Thaçi's party fared best in the Drenica heartland of central Kosovo, where his UÇK fought some of their most pitched battles with Serbian security forces as early as 1998.
"This is a free vote for independence and democracy in Kosova," Rugova said after casting his own ballot in Priština.
At a news conference called early in the week to release his election monitors' version of the vote breakdown, Rugova said his party's strong showing "is another confirmation of the people's sympathy and trust for the LDK."
The LDK chief told the media that the elections had been organized under the slogan "independence for Kosovo," and that the results clearly illustrated that, "Kosovo won. Everyone won."
Not everyone shared Rugova's assessment.
Kosovar Serbs dominate four of Kosovo's 30 major municipalities. Neither they nor Serbs scattered in isolated enclaves around the province participated in the elections after community leaders called a boycott.
The Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija called the elections "a step made in haste and an example of political hypocrisy."
"There were no conditions for the free participation of all citizens in the local elections," the Council said in a statement released to local media, "without complete freedom of living and expression of political will of all citizens, there are no free elections."
At midweek, the Council called on United Nations Interim Administration (UNMIK) head Bernard Kouchner to ensure Kosovar Serbs can vote in the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections. The Council also announced it will run in coalition with Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS).
Kouchner will appoint local representatives on behalf of the Serbs.
At a Sunday press conference, Kouchner said the elections had been carried out with dignity and without violence. Although he said he regretted Serbs' decision to boycott the election, he said the international community bore no responsibility for their decision, claiming Kosovar Serbs had succumbed to pressure by the Milošević regime.
The people, Kouchner maintained, had voted. "Not just the Albanians, but also the Romanies, Turks, Goranci and Askalies," he said, in reference to Kosovo's other minority groups.
Kouchner said he expects Kosovar Serbs will, in time, agree to participate in Kosovo's democratic structures. Later in the week, he told the media that the Serbs appear to be rethinking their boycott and could well hold their own local elections in early 2001.
Meanwhile, the OSCE has announced that the final, certified election results should be available by the week of 6 November, after ballots cast in the Special Needs Program are counted and expatriate Kosovars' votes are processed by the Vienna-based International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The Special Needs program targeted those too ill to leave home to cast ballots, citizens in hospitals and prisons and Kosovar police officers on duty on election day.
Brovina freed from Pozarevac
Flora Brovina, the physician, poet and human rights activist, dropped to her knees to kiss Kosovar soil as soon as she crossed the border after having been released from a Serbian jail in Pozarevac on 1 November.
Brovina was ordered to be released by a special decree issued by Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica. She left the prison at mid-afternoon and was driven to the Kosovo border by International Committee of the Red Cross officials. Family members and UNMIK officials met her at the border.
Brovina later told media and a cheering crowd of Kosovar Albanians that, "I know the war is over, but until the moment all [Kosovar Albanian political prisoners] who are in Serbian jails are released, I cannot see freedom."
The 50-year old Brovina spent 18 months in jail on charges of having helped plan terrorist activities and of having lent aid and comfort to the UÇK. She was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison after having been arrested in her Priština home during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign.
International human rights organizations have maintained that Brovina's greatest crime was providing aid and comfort to women and children at a special health clinic during the war in Kosovo.
UNMIK chief Kouchner welcomed Brovina's release, and called on Koštunica to "release all ethnic Albanian political prisoners who remain in Serbia."
Three other Kosovar Albanian prisoners were released at the same time as Brovina, and eleven others were released on 28 October. Between 700 and 1000 more are thought to still languish in Serbian jails.
Since coming to power, Koštunica has released from jail two prominent Serbian journalists (including the IWPR's Miroslav Filipović), two British nationals and two Canadians, all charged with political crimes.
UNMIK media boss scolds papers
UNMIK Temporary Media Commissioner Simon Haselock credited most local media for having "done well" in covering the recent municipal election campaign. While Haselock generally praised broadcast media outlets, he scolded a number of print outlets for violating the Electoral Rule on the Conduct of the Media.
Haselock singled out the Bota Sot and Rilindja dailies, as well as the student newspaper Epoka e Re and the KosovaPress news agency, all of whom he said had exhibited "obvious bias toward a particular party."
Bota Sot, he said, had exhibited bias against the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), while Rilindja and Epoka e Re were singled out as having launched a "politically inspired campaign" against the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and its leadership.
Demaçi: Serbs should recognize new reality
Adem Demaçi, known as the "Nelson Mandela of Kosovo" for having spent 28 of his 64 years in Yugoslav prisons, said in Belgrade that Serbs must recognize the new reality in Kosovo and accept the province's independence.
"There is no going back," he said on 31 October, "and any solution that avoids recognition and acceptance of an independence Kosova is doubtful and can only be temporary."
Major KFOR weapons haul
NATO-led KFOR troops in the Multinational Brigade Center area took in a significant haul of contraband weapons during search operations in Cagllavice and Fshati Llap.
Among the weapons confiscated were ten AK-47 assault rifles, five SKS rifles, eleven shotguns, a machinegun, nine pistols, four sticks of plastic explosive, 200 grams of dynamite, nine grenades, 870 rounds of small arms ammunition, 20 explosive detonators and an M80 antitank weapon.
A KFOR spokesman said one man had been detained in connection with the search operation.
Pat FitzPatrick, 3 November 2000
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