Strong Serb showing in Kosovo election offers a pivotal role in province's government

Tuesday, November 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbs could play a pivotal role in governing Kosovo after posting a strong finish in the first elections to be held in the province since the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Though ethnic Albanian parties took most of the votes in Saturday's election, parties representing the Serb minority could get about 20 seats in the 120-seat assembly, giving them a serious presence that will likely force the two sides to cooperate.

``This joint work will be possible,'' said Ylber Hysa of the respected think tank Kosovo Action for Civic Initiatives. Hysa noted that ethnic Albanians and Serbs have already taken tentative steps toward cooperation in transitional governmental bodies that have been operating since 1999, when the United Nations began work in Kosovo.

``There are groups of Albanians and Serbs that have already moved together,'' he said.

The Democratic League of Kosovo led by ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova won with just over 46 percent of the vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday.

Rugova has pledged to push for independence for Kosovo, which remains part of Yugoslavia.

Though the win gave Rugova a clear mandate to govern, he lacked the overwhelming margin he would need to rule alone in the province, which is rebuilding after war and a decade of oppression under Milosevic.

Rugova's party beat former rebel leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, which finished with just over 25 percent of the vote _ far more than anticipated by Rugova's followers.

A coalition of parties representing the minority Serbs finished third with just under 11 percent, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian party, followed with 7.8 percent of the vote.

Voters elected legislators to serve in the assembly that in turn will choose a president and form a provincial administration.

The administrators will govern alongside U.N. officials and NATO-led peacekeepers who took control of the province after 78 days of NATO airstrikes. The alliance launched the air war to force Milosevic to end his crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.

Ethnic Albanians flocked to polling stations Saturday to take part in a vote many saw as a giant leap toward ethnic Albanian dreams of independence _ a concept that frightened some minority Serbs into staying home.

Even so, thousands of Kosovo Serbs raced to the polls in the final hours of the ballot. Some apparently sought the cover of darkness, fearing they would face intimidation on their way to the polls.

By Monday, Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Kosovo Serb candidate from the ethnically divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica, declared he was ``satisfied'' with the vote.

Dozens of Serbs have been killed in attacks leveled in revenge for Milosevic's crackdown, which killed at least 10,000 people.

The U.N. Security Council urged Kosovo's elected leaders to respect the U.N. resolution enshrining the 1999 peace agreement that ended Kosovo's war, ``in particular the final status provisions.''

The resolution asserted Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo, but authorized the U.N. administration to set up an interim government with ``substantial autonomy.'' It also pledged U.N. help with a process determining the province's future relationship with Yugoslavia.