- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia As they have for the last 20 years, Kosovo's Albanians plan to boycott Sunday's Yugoslav election. But many will be silently rooting for President Slobodan Milosevic on the theory that what's bad for Yugoslavia is good for Kosovo.
As long as Mr. Milosevic is in power, they argue, the international community is unlikely to push for a confederation between Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia. And that makes it more likely that Kosovars' dream of independence is that much more likely to come true.
"If Milosevic wins, everyone, all the Kosovars, will say, 'Good, they will not make pressure for us to accept any kind of confederation.' It is a problem, but it is the truth," said Gjergj Dedaj, leader of the Liberal Party of Kosova. He said Yugoslav forces killed 12 members of his family, "and I will never accept any kind of confederation with Serbia."
Many ordinary Albanians agree.
"If Milosevic wins, Yugoslavia is just going to continue breaking up, but if someone else comes, things might start to go better there," said Betim Aliu, a 30-year-old Pristina man whose property in the Kosovo town of Gnjilane was destroyed by Mr. Milosevic's troops.
Most Albanians in Kosovo think that despite the democratic leanings of Mr. Milosevic's challenger Vojislav Kostunica, both would be equally bad for Kosovo.
"On the Kosovo issue, they are the same; they say Kosovo is part of Serbia," Mr. Dedaj said.
But people here say the international community's perception of a threat to Kosovo is crucial to their independence. Although Mr. Kostunica is no friend to the Kosovo Albanians, it's Mr. Milosevic who is the indicted war criminal.
"If Milosevic wins, it's more easy for Kosovars, for the independence of Kosovo, because everyone knows who is Milosevic. He is the new Stalin, a war criminal, nothing else," Mr. Dedaj said.
Mr. Milosevic was indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for atrocities committed during the 1998-99 cleansing of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo ended the war in June 1999.
Kosovo now is under international administration, and its own U.N.-organized local elections won't be held until Oct. 28.
Not all Albanians think Mr. Milosevic is better for Kosovo.
"For us, the elections in Serbia are the same as elections in a foreign country," said Fatmir Limaj, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Kosovo.
Kosovo may yet play a crucial role in Mr. Milosevic's election strategy. He is trailing Mr. Kostunica badly in all polls and is widely expected to cheat. Because Kosovars are still technically Yugoslavs, they can vote.
Reports in Belgrade say 600,000 Albanian-language ballots have been printed, and that polling stations will be set up even in areas of Kosovo that have no Serbs.
To observers in Belgrade, that means Mr. Milosevic will claim nearly 100 percent of Kosovars' votes, as they say he has done in previous elections. That could provide him with the margin he would need to win.
U.N. officials are only reluctantly allowing the Yugoslav elections to take place in Kosovo, saying that the polls don't follow international norms, and that the only elections they will recognize are the municipal polls they are organizing for next month.
The United Nations will keep an eye on voting in Kosovo but will not officially monitor the elections, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo's head, Bernard Kouchner, announced Tuesday.
"UNMIK will bear witness to any inflated claims related to the so-called Yugoslav elections in Kosovo," he said. "If Mr. Milosevic says that 500,000 people coming out of Kosovo have voted, we will say it is not so."
The United Nations estimates that about 100,000 Serbs live in the province.

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