CEOL - Officials consider Consultative Body for Kosovo

PRISTINA, Dec 13, 1999 -- (Reuters) International authorities are considering holding Kosovo-wide elections next year, officials familiar with the idea say.

The plan for a consultative assembly with limited powers rather than a fully-fledged parliament will avoid facing big questions on Kosovo's future, but it falls far short of the dreams of the ethnic Albanian majority. The proposal is one of several being floated by officials of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration as they grapple with the questions of when and how to stage elections and who should be eligible to vote in them.

The administration, which on Sunday marked six months in formal charge of Kosovo, is confident it will be able to hold local elections in 2000, although probably not before the middle of the year at the earliest.

But a Kosovo-wide vote is more difficult to organize and politically more sensitive - broaching the key questions of Kosovo's final political status and possible independence.

Some officials see electing a consultative body around the same time as the local polls as a neat route around the problems.

Local elections likely next summer

Huge population movements both within Kosovo and in and out of the disputed territory over the past year make the logistics of setting up any election difficult.

Around 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced to flee earlier this year as Serb forces rampaged through Kosovo, reducing tens of thousands of homes to rubble and confiscating and destroying many identity documents.

Most of the refugees are now back in Kosovo, but many are not in the same place as before.

"This is a daunting task, to get a decent reliable, accurate voter register," said Daan Everts, head of mission for the European security organization OSCE, which has responsibility for organizing elections in Kosovo.

"And hence you cannot expect elections to be around the corner. But we are definitely set to have them in 2000," he told Reuters. "But you have to be realistic and think in terms of summer rather than spring, if not autumn," he added.

Everts also insisted that Serbs who had fled Kosovo in fear of revenge attacks by Albanians must be allowed to vote.

"Having been forced out of the country cannot lead to disenfranchising," said Everts, a Dutch diplomat. "That would mean confirmation of ethnic cleansing."

Neutralizing threat of independence

The local elections will go some way to putting public administration back into the hands of the people of Kosovo.

But Kosovo Albanians did not fight a guerrilla war against Serb rule and endure a campaign of terror while NATO bombed Serb forces into withdrawal just to run a few local councils.

Their political leaders want a parliament, a springboard to the full independence for Kosovo which they seek but which major diplomatic powers are anxious to avoid, at least for the moment, fearing it could spark a new Balkan war.

Elections for a consultative assembly would banish the danger of a newly elected Kosovo parliament promptly declaring independence. It could also avoid the logistical headaches of far-flung potential voters taking part in the election.

"You do not have to get the guy who left this place 20 years ago but insists to be a Kosovar and wants to vote," one senior official said. "If you have a real parliamentary election on the basis of citizenship, he would claim that."

Officials acknowledge they would need to do a good job in selling the idea to make it acceptable to Kosovo leaders.

"We don't need elections for a consultative body," Hashim Thaci, prime minister of a self-proclaimed provisional government and a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, said in a first reaction. "A round table could elect that."

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