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Moderate Claims Victory in Kosovo

Yugoslavia: Ethnic Albanian leader calls for quick independence of U.N.-administered province.

November 19, 2001|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on Sunday claimed victory for his party in Kosovo's first free and democratic parliamentary elections, and then issued a call for quick independence.

"Today or tomorrow, we're ready," he said. Rugova added that he believes the U.N.-administered province, which remains a part of Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia, will achieve recognition as an independent state during the new Kosovo Assembly's three-year term.

"Based on the level of culture Kosovars demonstrated yesterday [in orderly balloting], we can say that Kosovars do deserve independence," Rugova told reporters at his home in Pristina, the provincial capital. "The progress made over the past 2 1/2 years also proves that Kosovars and Kosovo deserve independence."

International control of Kosovo was established in June 1999 after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's bombing campaign forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end his deadly crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up a large majority of Kosovo's population.

"I take this opportunity to call once again for formal recognition of the independence of Kosovo as soon as possible," Rugova said. "The independence of Kosovo will be a positive outcome for all its citizens, and will undoubtedly calm down this part of Europe."

Western governments have been reluctant to endorse Kosovo independence, partly out of fear that it could trigger a chain reaction in the Balkans, including efforts to break off ethnic Albanian parts of Macedonia and Montenegro, the smaller republic in Yugoslavia, to create a "Greater Kosovo" or "Greater Albania."

Some observers also believe that Kosovo independence would provide a precedent for the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina to break away and unite with Serbia.

Some Serb leaders have vowed that the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo will never be part of an independent ethnic Albanian-dominated country, but instead would re-integrate with Serbia proper. "If Kosovo is independent, believe me, part of Kosovo will be independent from that independence," said Oliver Ivanovic, a Serb leader in the ethnically divided northern Kosovo city of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Under a 1999 U.N. Security Council resolution, ultimate control of Kosovo will remain in the hands of a U.N. administrator until the international community decides the time is ripe for a permanent settlement. The current administrator, Hans Haekkerup, has stressed that the Assembly does not have the power to take up the independence issue.

Under U.N.-established rules, the parliament will elect a president, who in turn nominates a prime minister. Rugova said that "for sure" he expects to win the presidency.

International officials expressed satisfaction that balloting across Kosovo was peaceful. Virtually no incidents were reported.

In the Serb-dominated part of Kosovska Mitrovica, tough-looking young Serbs tried to take photographs of people coming to vote and threatened them with retaliation. French soldiers broke up the intimidation effort, and balloting at the station proceeded peacefully, said Lt. Gen. Marcel Valentin, commander of the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo.

First official results of Saturday's balloting will not be released until today, but independent nongovernmental monitoring organizations have projected that Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo placed first with about half the vote. Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo finished second with about one-quarter of the vote.

Officials of both parties have said they believe their vote totals will prove to be higher than those projections.

Of the new Assembly's 120 seats, 10 are reserved for Kosovo's Serb minority and 10 for other minorities including Roma, or Gypsies. The remaining 100 seats will be apportioned to political parties according to their percentage of the vote. That means that if a party wins slightly more than 50% of the ballots, that is not enough to control parliament without forming a coalition.

Rugova said Sunday that he expects his party to lead a government that would include representatives of other parties.

Rugova also pledged that the new government will treat Kosovo's Serbs fairly.

"Serbs and other minorities will be integrated into all walks and all levels of life in Kosovo," Rugova said. "We stand for a multiethnic society."

After the NATO-led peacekeeping force entered Kosovo in mid-1999, nearly 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians fled the province in fear of reprisal attacks by ethnic Albanians. About 80,000 to 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, which has an estimated population of more than 2 million. Almost all Serbs oppose Kosovo independence; virtually all ethnic Albanians favor it.

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