Albanian nationalist wins Kosovo polls

November 19, 2001

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PRISTINA, Nov 18: Moderate ethnic Albanian nationalist Ibrahim Rugova on Sunday claimed victory for his party in general elections in Kosovo, and immediately issued a new call for independence for the UN-administered Yugoslav province.

“We insist that the independence of Kosovo is recognized as soon as possible, which will calm this part of Europe and the world,” Rugova told a news conference one day after the province- wide elections for a 120-member parliament.

“After yesterday’s elections, we have proved that the citizens of Kosovo deserve independence.”

Officials of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which will remain the ultimate authority in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province, have emphasized that the new assembly will never be allowed to declare independence for Kosovo from Yugoslavia, a fear of the minority Serb community.

Rugova, 57, who led a campaign of passive resistance against the regime of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, promised to work for the “real integration” of minorities, including Serbs, into society in the bitterly divided province.

“The Serbs and the other minorities will be integrated into Kosovo on the economic, social and institutional levels,” he said. “We will have a multi-ethnic society.”

He said his Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won the election “with approximately 70 per cent of the vote.” The LDK figure from was far more than the 45 per cent share predicted by an exit poll.

“It is a good percentage, which will reassure and encourage others to run Kosovo strongly and efficiently,” Rugova said.

Rugova, a French-educated writer and professor of Albanian literature, is widely tipped to be elected president of Kosovo by the new parliament, which is supposed to meet within 30 days of the election.

The president is to nominate a prime minister, who in turn will form a government for Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

The election was the result of a UN Security Council resolution in June 1999 that authorized “substantial autonomy” for Kosovo, and the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR.

The resolution followed an 11-week NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia that forced Milosevic to end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the province.

The Serbs, who form about five per cent of the population of two million, had been reluctant to participate in the election, demanding the UN first improve their security and living conditions and aid the return of almost 200,000 Serbs and other minorities who have fled the province in fear of attacks by Albanians.

But in Kosovo itself, turnout among minorities, mostly Serbs, was 46 per cent, while among the refugees it was 57 per cent, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE is to release official “preliminary provisional results” on Monday evening.

But an exit poll released early on Sunday by a non- governmental organization, Kosova Action for Civic Initiatives (KAIC), indicated the LDK had won almost 45 per cent of the popular vote, against about 24 per cent for its nearest rival, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

KAIC estimated the third main Albanian party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), had taken around eight per cent.

Both the AAK and the PDK are more radical than Rugova’s party, and are led by former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the guerrilla force that fought Milosevic’s control of the province. If Rugova fails to win a majority of seats in the parliament, he will likely have to form a coalition with one of those two parties.—AFP