A hardline Kosovo Serb has become the mayor of Mitrovica North following a prolonged electoral race soured by the killing of one candidate and the arrest of another.

Goran Rakic, a Belgrade-backed candidate, won 52.6 percent of the ballots, according to official preliminary results.

NATO peacekeepers and EU police heightened security measures during Sunday's vote, the fourth such ballot in as many months. Previous attempts failed because of violence and intimidation.

Rakic's main contender, Oliver Ivanovic, is in detention after a European Union prosecutor indicted him for allegedly committing war crimes against ethnic Albanians in 1999 and alleged murder in 2000.

In January, Dimitrije Janicijevic, a candidate for mayor from a party that collaborates with ethnic Albanians, was gunned down outside his house.

More than 28,000 people were registered to vote, the AP news agency reported.

"As new mayor my first request will be to free Mr Oliver Ivanovic and all other unjustly held Serbs," Rakic told supporters at his campaign headquarters. 

No incidents were reported during Sunday's election, for which a large number of European Union police and NATO soldiers was deployed, AFP reported.

Allegiance refusal

During the initial poll on November 3, a group of masked men smashed polling stations and destroyed voting material.

The attack was blamed on Serb hardliners wanting to disrupt the vote because they feared it endorsed Kosovo's 2008 secession from Serbia.

The voted was annulled but the winner of the subsequent December 1 poll then forced a new vote after he refused to swear allegiance to Kosovo's predominantly ethnic-Albanian institutions.

Serbs in Kosovo's tense north defy rule by the capital, Pristina, and back a Serbian claim over the territory.

Serbia and Kosovo are locked in an EU-led effort to overcome their differences and move closer to eventual membership of the 28-member bloc.

As part of the talks, Serbia allowed its minority in four northern municipalities to vote in Kosovo elections despite strongly rejecting its secession, AP reported.

The four municipalities in the north have said they will create a union with another five Serb-controlled municipalities scattered elsewhere in Kosovo that would give the minority more say over daily affairs.

Source: Agencies