Kosovo Serbs call referendum on recognizing Pristina

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 29, 2011 7:08 AM
Kosovo Serbs call referendum on recognizing Pristina

By Branislav Krstic

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Three out of four Serb-run municipalities in Kosovo's tense north decided to hold a referendum in early 2012 to decide whether to recognize Pristina's Kosovo Albanian-dominated government, a local official said on Thursday.

Kosovo, 90 percent ethnic Albanian, declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbs dominate in a small swathe of the north bordering Serbia and pledge allegiance to Belgrade, resisting efforts by the Kosovo government to extend authority.

Municipal councils from Kosovska Mitrovica, Zubin Potok and Zvecan run by Serb nationalists scheduled the vote for February 15, but the council of Leposavic, dominated by Democrats loyal to Serbia's President Boris Tadic remained undecided, said Branko Ninic, Leposavic's mayor.

"The Serbian constitution clearly stipulates that Kosovo is part of Serbia and a referendum is not necessary, especially if the move is not coordinated with the government in Belgrade," Ninic said.

The largely lawless region saw outbursts of violence this year after Kosovo authorities, the EU's police mission (EULEX) and NATO peacekeepers (KFOR) tried to take over two border crossings with Serbia in July.

In response local Serbs have set up with barricades and resisted efforts from KFOR to take them over. Dozens were wounded in clashes and one ethnic Albanian policeman died in a shootout.

Serbia, which props up north Kosovo, came under pressure to resolve the impasse but failed to do so and consequently could not secure candidate status for EU membership on December 9.

Meanwhile, Belgrade has moved to mend ties with Kosovo including agreements on mutual recognition of vehicles registration plates, travel documents and university diplomas.

Kosovo Serbs say the agreements were tantamount to the recognition of independent Kosovo.

"With the referendum, we want to show that people in the north of Kosovo do not want to be part of Kosovo institutions," Kosovska Mitrovica mayor Krstimir Pantic told reporters late on Wednesday.

Key officials in Belgrade have already warned Kosovo Serbs against holding the referendum, saying it would harm talks with Pristina and Serbia's bid to join EU.

"The referendum will not be backed by Belgrade and the international community," said Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia's state secretary for Kosovo.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed for 78 days to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war under then-President Slobodan Milosevic.

(Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by)