Serb-majority North Kosovo towns vote on ethnic Albanian mayors

AFP || Shining BD

Published: 4/21/2024 8:45:48 AM

Four towns in the Serb-majority region of North Kosovo are holding an extraordinary local election on Sunday on whether to oust their ethnic Albanian mayors in a territory riddled with deadly tensions.

The vote could pave the way for the election of Serbs to the mayoral posts after the appointment of the ethnic Albanians sparked violence in the Belgrade-backed region.

Tensions in Kosovo's troubled north have been smouldering for months, following local elections won by the ethnic Albanian mayors in April last year.

Ethnic Serbs boycotted the elections and Serb protesters later clashed with Kosovo police and NATO troops. Around 30 NATO peacekeepers were injured.

Ethnic tensions in the north then boiled over in September in an attack by heavily armed Serbs on a Kosovo police patrol in the village of Banjska, which killed a policeman.

An ensuing gun battle at a monastery in the village close to the Serbian border left three Serb gunmen dead.

The former vice-president of the Serb List, Milan Radoicic, took responsibility for the attack.

It was one of the gravest escalations in years in the former breakaway province of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

- Serb boycott call -

Led by the largest Serb and Belgrade-backed party, Serb List, thousands of citizens of North Kosovo's four municipalities signed petitions in January for the dismissal of all the current mayors in the north.

Despite the Serb side favouring the new vote, organising the mass collection of signatures and talking up the opportunity to take control over the local administration, it is not yet certain whether many Serbs will turn out to vote.

The Serb List surprisingly urged citizens to boycott it only two weeks ago, citing a disagreement with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership.

"The position of Serb List is to not participate in the referendum called by (Kosovo Prime Minister) Albin Kurti because he has done everything for the vote to fail," said the head of the party, Zlatan Elek.

In addition to the political challenge, election authorities face a logistical one.

The head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Kreshnik Radoniqi, said 33 schools had refused to hold the vote for the dismissal of the mayors in the north, while 10 others were accessible.

The schools' Serb principals said that cultural and other activities were already planned for weekends across the whole of April.

"This is an attempt by the Serb List to hold the Serb community hostage, but it will fail and the process will not stop," said CEC official Alban Krasniqi.

If Sunday's vote on whether to oust the mayors succeeds, President Vjosa Osmani will set a date for an early municipal election in the territory.

Voting in the municipalities of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and North Mitrovica began at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and ends 12 hours later.

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