Northern Kosovo Serbs go to polls despite Belgrade
MITROVICA - Agence France-Presse
A girl shouts slogans as she celebrates the independence of Kosovo in Pristina in this file photo. Pristina’s independence has been accepted by 87 countries. AFP photoSerbs in northern Kosovo yesterday started voting in a referendum aimed at highlighting their opposition to Pristina and anger at concessions Belgrade has made in EU-brokered talks.
Some 35,000 voters in the majority Serb north of Kosovo will be asked in the vote: “Do you accept the institutions of the so-called republic of Kosovo seated in Pristina?” Serbs in north Kosovo have never accepted Pristina’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia and are expected to overwhelmingly vote “no.”
“Of course I came to vote as it is the first time that someone officially asks the people if they want to live under Pristina’s institutions,” said 74-year-old Ljuba Savic, who was one of the first to cast his ballot in Kosovska Mitrovica yesterday morning. The vote is seen as an act of defiance against the Serbian government, which many of northern Kosovo’s Serbs feel has been too conciliatory in the Belgrade-Pristina talks. The referendum comes just two days ahead of the fourth anniversary of Pristina’s 2008 declaration of independence, which Belgrade has not recognized but has been accepted by 87 countries. Out of a population of about two million, there are some 120,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, 40,000 of whom live in the north. The rest of the Serbs live in enclaves dotted around the territory.
Krstimir Pantic, mayor of the Serb-dominated part of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, said the vote “will show that the Serbs in northern Kosovo do not want to be under Pristina institutions.” Some 82 polling stations in northern Kosovo municipalities will be open yesterday and today for the two-day vote. Belgrade has labeled the referendum “unconstitutional.”