Northern Kosovo prepares for election re-run

Citizens expected to participate in a re-run of the local elections in northern Kosovo weeks after they were annulled.

    It will be a day for voting like no other for people of northern Kosovska Mitrovica.

    Here, citizens are expected to participate in a re-run of the Pristina-organised local elections after masked men stormed at least three polling stations and destroyed voting material.

    That incident resulted in the annulment of the results.

    Dramatic cell phone footage from November 3 (the original day of elections) recently emerged on the Internet showing at least dozen masked men inside one of the voting stations in northern Kosovska Mitrovica, destroying ballot boxes, smashing windows and injuring election commission members.

    Ballots were destroyed, and, three election centres in North Kosovska Mitrovica were closed due to security fears.

    Officials in Belgrade immediately pointed fingers at anti-election campaigners, labeling them "Serb extremists" and subsequently asked for permission from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, to send its troops to intervene to restore order.

    Boycott campaigners rejected these accusations and claimed that the incident was staged by Belgrade, which they say is afraid of the possible success of the boycott of the polls.

    As it stands, Belgrade has good reason to get the Serbs from the north working with Pristina and to integrate the area and its people into its structure and system. With Serbia still seeking EU membership, such a step would go a long to way making the country's case.

    Dramatic political shifts

    Before the Serbian authorities were forced out of Kosovo by the NATO-led campaign in 1999, the region was controlled by Belgrade.

    During the past 14 years, however, Belgrade has rejected attempts by the both international community and Pristina to dismantle its government structures in Kosovo and to integrate the ethnic Serb dominated north with the rest of Kosovo.

    But after last year's general elections in Serbia, a dramatic shift took place in Kosovar politics.

    A string of EU-brokered high level meetings between leaders from Belgrade and Pristina took place in Brussels, resulting in agreements that will allow full integration of all of Kosovo, dismantling the Serbian structures in the north, and many other measures leading to normalisation of relations between former adversaries.

    But for many in the north of Kosovo, those agreements are unacceptable. They feel betrayed by their government in Belgrade and hence refuse to participate in the process.

    In order to persuade as many as possible that there is no other option for them, Serbian PM Ivica Dacic spoke on Friday at the main city square in northern Kosovska Mitrovica. Addressing thousands gathered there, he admitted that this process was a reluctant choice, but it was the only one available.

    And Pristina is not standing idly by waiting for Serbia to handle the restless north. Its interest is to finally extend its authority over the entire territory of Kosovo.

    That is why they, too, would like these elections to succeed. They have deployed almost 2,000 police officers in the north, which is four times more than the number deployed on November 3.

    The possible success of a re-run of these elections could be just one small step towards resolution of crisis in north of Kosovo.

    But judging by the deep divisions among Serbs in the north, it seems that it is only the beginning of a long and uncertain journey.


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