Serb voters in northern Kosovo have rejected ethnic Albanian rule in a referendum, defying efforts by Serbia and the EU to resolve differences over the territory.
“Out of those who voted, 99.74 per cent answered ‘no’ to the referendum question” if they accept Pristina institutions, Ljubomir Radovic, a spokesman of the referendum commission told reporters after all the votes were counted on Wednesday.
In all four Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo, where 75 per cent of voters cast ballots out of the 35,500 eligible to vote, only “69 votes were marked ‘yes’,” Radovic said.
However, the two-day referendum has no legal weight and has been dismissed by both Belgrade and Pristina as well as the international community.
The vote was called as many Kosovo Serbs fear that Belgrade, which is hoping to win official EU candidate status in March, would eventually give up its claim to Kosovo.
Neither Serbia nor local Serbs recognise the 2008 unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo.
“After the referendum, it will be crystal clear to ethnic Albanians, the international community and politicians from Belgrade that it is not (just) local politicians who do not want the Kosovo institutions, but that it is the wish of the whole Serb community living in the north,” Krstimir Pantic, mayor of the Serb part of ethnically divided flashpoint Kosovska Mitrovica, told the AFP news agency.
The referendum, which asks voters if they accept Pristina institutions, is being held ahead of the fourth anniversary on Friday of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, a move rejected by Belgrade.
Many Kosovo Serbs feel Belgrade should not deal with a government it officially does not recognise.
Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia’s state secretary for Kosovo, on Tuesday lashed out at what he branded the “open defiance” of the Serb-dominated northern Kosovo municipalities in organising the vote.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said the vote was “harming the interests of the state”, while insisting Belgrade would never accept Kosovo’s independence, which is recognised by the US and most of Europe.
In Pristina, the Kosovo parliament passed a motion declaring the referendum “invalid.”
The parliament said it “finds that the so-called referendum organised by the illegal structures does not produce any legally and politically binding effect and as such is not valid”.
Albania’s foreign ministry also expressed its “concern”, saying the vote would not contribute to the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
Out of a population of about two million, there are some 120,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, with 40,000 in the north on the border with Serbia and the rest in enclaves dotted around the territory.
Kosovan analysts said the referendum demonstrated that Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci’s government does not control the whole of its territory.
“This referendum reconfirms for the umpteenth time that Kosovo cannot establish control over all its territory,” commentator Adrian Collaku said the independent Zeri daily, calling it “another step towards secession” for northern Kosovo.
The north was the scene of unrest in November, when some 50 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force were hurt in a dispute between the two sides over control of border crossings.