PRISTINA (Reuters) – Serbia said on Monday it would conduct its May elections in the former Kosovo province as well, in a fresh challenge to the newly independent state and its international overseers.
“Kosovo is part of Serbia, so parliamentary and local elections will be held in Kosovo,” Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic said during a visit to Serb enclaves in the territory.
He told reporters a request would be filed with the U.N. mission that has run Kosovo since the 1998-99 war.
The mission had not blocked Kosovo’s 120,000-strong Serb minority from voting in Serbian elections before.
But Kosovo declared independence last month, and its ethnic Albanian leaders are urging the United Nations to withhold permission for the local polls.
The prospect of Kosovo Serbs voting on May 11 poses a security headache for U.N. police and the 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force, already tested by deadly Serb rioting in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica this month.
The move is in line with Belgrade’s rejection of Kosovo’s secession. Serbia is telling Serbs to boycott the Kosovo institutions, dividing the police force and customs service and strengthening parallel health and education services.
“Serbia will find a way to take over responsibilities that after the declaration of independence were left hanging,” Samardzic said in the village of Laplje Selo.
“Serbs don’t want to work for an Albanian quasi-state, but for Serbia.”
Serbia’s coalition government collapsed in early March, triggering the election that could decide whether Serbia pursues a place in the European Union or rejects membership over the bloc’s support for Kosovo’s secession.
Under a U.N. plan, rejected by Serbia and Russia but adopted by Kosovo, Serbs in Kosovo would be able to vote in Serbian parliamentary elections. But Kosovo’s 90-percent Albanian majority says local elections have territorial implications.
“We want dual-citizenship to be applied in the best possible way,” Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said on Monday. “But Kosovo cannot be an electoral zone for anyone.”
The United Nations has run Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombed to drive out Serbian forces and halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year war against guerrillas. The mission has yet to say whether it will allow voting in May.