Kosovo rejects Western calls for Serbia referendum

Kosovo has rejected calls from Western governments to allow its minority Serbs to vote in Serbia’s referendum in the same way it has done in past years

Serbs can only vote by mail or at liaison offices, and do not have to follow past practice of setting up polling stations in Serb-controlled areas, a joint statement issued by Kosovo’s top authorities said.

A statement from the office of Kosovo President Vijosa Osmani said Kosovo law “does not recognize the right of one country to hold a referendum on the sovereign territory of another”. “The practice that has been in place since 2012 is unconstitutional.”

The decision could further heighten tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade has refused to recognize.

The Kosovo Serb delegation discussed the issue with Serbian populist President Alexander Vucic in Belgrade on Friday.

Sunday’s referendum focused on amendments the Serbian government said would promote judicial independence in the Balkan state as part of the reforms needed to move the country closer to EU membership.

“We regret to note that the Kosovo government has not allowed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to collect the ballots of eligible voters residing in Kosovo for the upcoming referendum, as has been practiced in the past,” the statement from the Western powers said. .

“We call on the Kosovo government to allow Kosovo Serbs to exercise their right to vote in elections and the electoral process in accordance with this established practice,” it added.

Serbia maintains that Kosovo remains part of the country, despite its declaration of independence after the 1998-99 conflict that killed some 13,000 people and ended when NATO bombing Serbia halted its crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Serbia has maintained a strong influence in the Serb-dominated part of Kosovo since it was forced to relinquish control in 1999, although it has no formal authority over the territory. Tens of thousands of Serbs live in Kosovo, mostly in the north, bordering Serbia.

“The problem is not with the OSCE,” Kosovo’s president, parliament speaker Glock Konjuvka and prime minister Albin Kurti insisted in a statement after senior officials met with ambassadors from five Western countries and the European Union. role, but the role of the OSCE. Serbia and its parallel and illegal construction in Kosovo.”

“Prior to the collection of ballots by the OSCE, a completely illegal process will be held to open polling stations and ballot boxes in the Republic of Kosovo for a referendum in another country, Serbia,” the statement added.

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo remains a source of tension in the Balkans. EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing relations have made little progress, although both Kosovo and Serbia have been told to resolve their differences to advance efforts to join the bloc.


Llazar Semini of Tirana, Albania, contributed to this story.