|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-319870 Kosovo Elections (L-O)
HEADLINE: Kosovo Serbs boycott Provincial Election
INTRO: The United Nations in Kosovo says fear and anger prompted most voters of the Serb minority to boycott Saturday's provincial elections. Stefan Bos reports from Budapest, the boycott is seen as a major blow to efforts to establish harmony in Kosovo between the Serb minority and the ethnic Albanian majority.
TEXT: U.N. officials had encouraged Kosovo's 100-thousand Serbs to participate in the Serbian province's second general elections since it came under U.N. and NATO administration in 1999.
Pro-Western Serbian President Boris Tadic urged Serbs to at least fill the 10 seats in the 120-seat provincial assembly reserved for them by the international community, saying that will give them political influence, when talks begin on the future status of Kosovo next year.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church had favored a boycott of the ballot, which they claimed was an international effort to loosen the province's ties to Serbia.
While Kosovo's Serbs want the province to stay in Serbia-and-Montenegro, ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population, favor independence.
The U.N. governor of Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, suggested to reporters that intimidation of Serbs by nationalists threatening violence also marred the contest.
/// ACT JESSEN-PETERSEN ///
"There are obviously people who have decided not to vote. That is their (democratic) right, (and) a right that I absolutely accept. (But then) there are others who obviously have had their democratic right to vote hijacked, who may have wanted to go out and vote, but who were afraid."
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Serbs have complained that the United Nations and NATO failed to create a secure environment, following ethnic clashes in March, which killed at least 19 people and injured more than 900 others. Thousands of Serbs also were driven from their homes and Orthodox Churches were destroyed by ethnic-Albanian mobs.
Albanian officials in the province appeared satisfied with the outcome of the assembly elections. Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova called the vote "a great and important day for the formal recognition of Kosovo's independence."
/// REST OPT ///
The Serb boycott is seen as a setback for the United Nations, which had hoped to create a multi-ethnic society after NATO bombardments forced then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo and end a crackdown against ethnic Albanians in 1999. An estimated 10-thousand people died in the bloodshed.
Preliminary results from Saturday's vote were expected by Monday, and the final outcome a week later. (SIGNED)
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