KOSOVSKA MITROVICA: Important elections yesterday in Kosovo will be watched for the turnout of its minority Serb population and as a vital step in Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.
Kosovo, the territory which sparked a war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in 1998-1999, remains the main stumbling block in Serbia’s membership process.
There are some 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo. The 40,000 living in the north, which has maintained a certain control of institutions, are torn over whether to vote in the elections, backed for the first time by Belgrade.
“By taking part in the elections organised by Pristina, Serbs from the north will recognise the existence of the institutions,” Belgrade-based political analyst Dusan Janjic said.
“This is their main dilemma since so far they have lived under Serbian institutions and do not know what life under Pristina authorities will look like,” he said.
Serbia still officially rejects Kosovo’s independence but it has encouraged the minority Serb community to vote in yesterday’s elections as part of a series of concessions on the breakaway province.
Serbia has been a candidate to enter the EU since 2012 but was given the green light to begin membership talks with Brussels only following an EU-brokered deal in April with Kosovo to normalise relations.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton labelled the elections “a key moment in Kosovo’s future and an important element in the process of normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.The EU will be following closely the conduct of the elections,” she said in a statement.
In northern Kosovo, particularly in the key town of Kosovska Mitrovica, the electoral campaign has brought visits from Belgrade officials, notably Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, Aleksandar Vulin.