Kosovo lawmakers reject holding Serb referendum in Kosovo

World

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Lawmakers in Kosovo held an extraordinary session Saturday to pass a resolution saying that opening polling stations for Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority to vote in a Serb referendum would violate the country’s constitution, laws and international practice.

The resolution in the parliament, which passed unanimously by the 76 lawmakers present, asked the government “to undertake all the actions … not to allow the violation of the Republic of Kosovo’s sovereignty and constitutional order from holding of a referendum of a foreign country in the Republic of Kosovo’s territory.” The ethnic Serb minority’s Serb Lists party had left the assembly hall before Saturday’s vote.

Serbia is holding a referendum on Sunday on amendments to boost the independence of its judiciary as part of reforms needed for the country to move closer to its goal of membership in the 27-nation European Union. Belgrade wants its ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo to participate.

But Kosovo authorities say ethnic Serbs in its territory may cast ballots only via mail or at a liaison office, ignoring past practices of setting up voting stations in Serb-dominated areas.

The resolution said Serbia is trying to exploit ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo “to serve its hostile policy against the Republic of Kosovo.”

Kosovo police said Saturday that they had blocked at the border documents that Serbia had sent to enable Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority to take part in the referendum. A police statement said one car and two trucks were stopped Friday at the Merdare border crossing point. The trucks were confiscated while six people in the vehicles were turned back.

A statement Friday from Kosovo’s top authorities said Kosovo laws “do not recognize the right of one state to hold a referendum in the sovereign territory of another state,” adding that “the practices applied so far since 2012 have been unconstitutional.”

The decision is likely further strain relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that Belgrade has refused to recognize.

Serbia has insisted that Kosovo remains part of the country, despite its declaration of independence following a 1998-99 conflict that killed some 13,000 people and ended after NATO bombed Serbia to stop its crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Serbia has maintained a strong influence in the Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo where tens of thousands of Serbs live, although it formally has no authority there.

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo remains a cause of tensions in the Balkans. EU-mediated negotiations aimed at normalizing relations between the two have produced little progress, although both Kosovo and Serbia have been told to resolve their differences in order to move forward in their bids to join the EU.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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