Kosovo Serbs quit election under Belgrade pressure

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PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 31 (Reuters) Serbs who hoped to run in next month's elections in Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province are pulling out under threat of reprisals by Serb officials, the United Nations and OSCE said today.

The UN administration in the Albanian majority province said it could ''assume'' the threats were coordinated from Belgrade, where Serb leaders have told Kosovo's Serb minority to boycott the November 17 parliamentary and local elections.

Belgrade believes that Serb participation in Kosovo elections would give legitimacy to a parliament and government determined to win independence from Serbia within months.

''We have heard a lot of statements made by senior officials, especially the Ministry for Kosovo, that can be described as intimidating and threatening,'' spokesman Alexander Ivanko told reporters.

The OSCE, which is helping run the polls, said a number of Kosovo Serb political parties had asked to withdraw from the election, particularly in the southern Serb enclave of Strpce.

''There have been warnings of financial sanctions and reported individual threats towards Kosovo Serbs who run or vote in elections,'' said OSCE spokesman Sven Lindholm.

''Their democratic right of choice is being interfered with.'' The officials cited cases of telephone threats, physical intimidation and warnings from one Serb official in Kosovo that Serb candidates and voters would be ''lynched''.

Negotiations between Serbia and leaders of Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority resume on Monday in Vienna, but mediators say chances of a deal before a December 10 deadline are slim. Kosovo says it will declare independence anyway.

The territory has been run by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO since 1999, when NATO bombing drove out Serb forces to halt their killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Around 120,000 Serbs stayed on when at least as many fled Albanian revenge attacks with the end of the war.

Many face isolation and discrimination, but more than 40 political entities had registered for the local and parliamentary polls in defiance of Belgrade's call to boycott.


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