An article in Oct. 24 editions about elections in the Serbian province of Kosovo misstated the number of people killed during civil disturbances in March and the victims' ethnicities. According to the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, which administers the province, the toll was 21 dead, nine of them Serbs and 12 of them ethnic Albanians. (Published 11/2/04)
Members of Kosovo's Serb minority boycotted parliamentary elections in high numbers Saturday, striking a blow to international efforts to promote multiethnic cooperation in advance of talks designed to determine the status of the province.
About 107,000 Serbs were eligible to vote in this province of 1.4 million, which is still technically part of Serbia and Montenegro, the successor to Yugoslavia. But early figures indicated that the Serb vote was minuscule, and polling stations in Serb areas were mostly empty.
Although a complete breakdown of the vote was unavailable, 88 of the 14,000 Serb voters turned out in the town of Leporavac, according to officials statistics. In Zvecan, 86 of about 7,000 voted.
"These are not our elections," said Milan Ivanovic, a Serbian nationalist who promoted the boycott. "They are not in our interest."
The U.N. special representative and chief authority in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, blamed politicians in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, for dissuading Serbs from voting. Vojislav Kostunica, prime minister of Serbia, the dominant republic of Serbia and Montenegro, was among the top politicians who had urged a boycott.
"It is clear that the confusing signals, if I can be so kind, and strong signals dissuading people from voting had the biggest impact," Jessen-Petersen said. He added that he had received anecdotal reports of pressure on Serbs not to cast their ballots. "Others have had their democratic right to vote hijacked," he said.
Jessen-Petersen praised the organization of the election, which went off without violence, but said, "I had hoped that many more Kosovo Serbs would have decided to participate."
Pascal Fieschi, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, added: "We are disappointed."
The election was held to select a 120-member assembly that would in turn choose a president. Serbs were guaranteed 10 seats. A few small Serb parties took part after "getting the green light from Belgrade" a few days ago, Jessen-Petersen said. Next year, the new government is supposed to negotiate a final status for Kosovo with Serbia and Montenegro.
Serbs took part in assembly elections in 2001, but two leading Serbian parties elected then stayed out this time.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population, viewed the vote as a step toward independence from Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when U.S.-led NATO forces ended Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's army crackdown on independence-minded ethnic Albanians.
Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's president and head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, said: "This is a great and important day for the recognition of Kosovo's independence.
Serbs, backed by the Serbian government in Belgrade, vehemently oppose independence for Kosovo. The United States and its allies in pacifying Kosovo have also opposed independence for Kosovo, in part because officials fear that it would set a precedent for a breakup of neighboring Bosnia and Macedonia.
In all, 33 parties participated in the election. Turnout was 53 percent, officials said, and preliminary results are scheduled to be released Sunday.
With 16 percent of the stations tallied, Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo was leading with about 47 percent of the vote.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had called for "all members of Kosovo communities to vote." In televised remarks, Fieschi, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told voters: "It's your future, in your hands, in this ballot box. Use it."
But Serbian polling stations were vacant throughout the day. In the town of Gracinica, east of the capital Pristina, only five Serbs out of thousands eligible had voted by noon, officials said.
In the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica in the north, only a handful of voters went to the polls under the hostile gaze of young men in cafes who spoke loudly against the vote, reports from the city said. In Orahovac in the south, five voters out of 64 eligible Serbs cast ballots, according to officials.
In several towns, Serbs gathered at churches and attended candlelight vigils, holding up signs that read: "We won't vote." The Serbian Orthodox Church supported the boycott.
"This is strictly the Albanians' business," said Goran Jovanovic, a Serb sitting out the vote in a cafe in Gracinica.
Serbs are still bitter about Albanian riots in March that resulted in the deaths of 19 Serbs. The violence hardened Serb demands for full control of their enclaves, including authority over police and education. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights watchdog, criticized peacekeepers for allowing the riots to get out of hand.
To allay Serbian concerns about security during the elections, NATO augmented its 26,000-member peacekeeping and police force in the province with 2,000 additional soldiers. In a theatrical show of force, 360 French soldiers parachuted into the province two weeks ago.
Some Albanians expressed a wish that the vote not only take the country closer to independence, but also begin an era of stability that would lead to economic growth. "We need jobs as much as anything," said Brikene Kusari, a voter in Pristina. "No one comes here to invest while problems linger over Kosovo."