Residents of four Serb-majority municipalities vote on removing Albanian mayors from office

2 months ago
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A voter is identified before he casts his vote at a polling station in North Mitrovica, Kosovo Sunday, April 21, 2024. Residents of four Serb-majority municipalities are casting their votes Sunday in a referendum to decide whether to remove their ethnic Albanian mayors from office following last year’s… (Associated Press)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Residents of four Serb-majority municipalities are casting their votes Sunday on removing their ethnic Albanian mayors from office following last year’s mayoral elections, overwhelmingly boycotted by the Serb minority.

The referendum — supported by the West — is an attempt to diffuse tensions between Kosovo and its neighboring Serbia as both countries vie to join the European Union. However, Kosovo’s main ethnic Serb party, Srpska List which has close ties with Belgrade, has called to boycott Sunday’s poll.

Some 46,500 residents are expected to vote in 47 polling stations, and for the mayors to step down, a majority vote is needed.

In June, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti offered to hold new elections in North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok if 20% of the electorate in the municipalities supported a petition for the polls. Residents voted in favor of the petition in January,

When Albanian mayors took up the offices last May, Kosovo Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers, injuring 93 troops, while protesting the results.

Serbia has backed calls for the mayors to step down.

Kosovo was a former Serbian province until a 78-day NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which left some 13,000 dead, mainly ethnic Albanians, and pushed Serbian forces out. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.

Tensions between the two countries remain high.

On Monday, Kosovo took another major step toward joining the Council of Europe — the continent’s foremost human rights body — amid Serbian opposition. The following day, Belgrade authorities stopped Kosovars trying to go home for nearly 20 hours at border checkpoints, saying it was for security reasons. Pristina accused Belgrade of “holding (Kosovars) hostage” for failing to block Kosovo’s Council of Europe membership. The U.S. and E.U denounced stalling free movement between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Kosovo announced its first nationwide census since 2011 which will include surveying the ethnic Serb minority in the north. The Srpska List party has denounced the census and called for a boycott, saying it was an attempt by Kurti’s government “to confirm his shameful success in expelling (some 250,000) Serbs,” in reference to the 1999 war.

Another point of contention was Pristina’s recent decision to ban ethnic Serbs from using the Serbian currency, the dinar, widely used in Kosovo’s Serbian-run institutions, including schools and hospitals.

The United States and the European Union are struggling to get the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue to get it “back on track.” Talks between the two have stalled after a Kosovo police officer and three Serb gunmen were killed in a shootout after about 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol near the Kosovo village of Banjska in September.

Brussels has warned both that refusal to compromise jeopardizes Serbia and Kosovo’s chances of joining the bloc. The 27-nation bloc is keen on maintaining the alignment of the Western Balkan countries — Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania — with the West as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues. The six are at different stages of the accession process.…Read more by Florent Bajrami And Llazar Semini

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