- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia Everything was ready for voting at the Center for Peace and Tolerance in downtown Pristina. British NATO soldiers were heavily patrolling the area, and bomb-sniffing dogs had deemed the neighborhood safe.

But when the polls opened at 7 a.m., there were no ballot boxes or ballots, either there or at the other two polling stations set up to accommodate Pristina's 500,000 people.

Not that it mattered. There were no voters, either.

To no one's surprise, voting in Kosovo's Albanian areas went slowly yesterday, if at all. At most, about 44,000 people cast ballots in all of Kosovo, out of the province's eligible 1 million voters.

Of those, the vast majority were Serbs. Only five stations were opened in non-Serbian areas, and the number of non-Serbian voters was in the dozens, according to the United Nations.

The British soldier on duty said he had to turn away only "a couple" of voters from the Center for Peace and Tolerance, where the ballots never showed up. The other Pristina station eventually obtained its materials and recorded votes from a little fewer than half of Pristina's 200 or so Serbs, and no one else.

The voting was closely watched because Kosovo was expected to be the focus of a vote-stealing effort by President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Milosevic's spokesman, Nikola Sainovic, claimed the Yugoslav president won "overwhelmingly" in Kosovo. However, the chief U.N. administrator in the province, Bernard Kouchner, said the "so-called 'elections' did not meet any international and European standards in terms of democracy."

The Center for Free Elections and Democracy reported major voting irregularities. They included opposition representatives being kicked out of polling stations or not allowed to inspect voters' lists, voting boxes and ballots.

Albanians here, though technically still Yugoslavs, think of themselves as an independent state and traditionally boycott Yugoslav elections, creating a ripe opportunity for Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia to claim Albanian voters as its own.

The U.N. administration here refused to officially monitor the elections, fearful of legitimizing elections it saw as hopelessly unfair. But under pressure from the United States and other NATO countries, the organization reached a compromise to "witness" the elections.

They fanned out across Kosovo yesterday to watch how many people entered and left polling stations to develop a high end of how many votes Mr. Milosevic could get from the province. They didn't enter polling stations or take part in counting the ballots.

Mr. Kouchner, at a Pristina press conference after the polls closed, pronounced the day a rousing success and said his team of close to 500 volunteer witnesses observed "no significant voting" outside the predominantly Serbian areas.

Informal observation also was organized by opposition supporters in the town of Mitrovica, which has the largest concentration of Serbs in the province.

"We are absolutely certain Milosevic is going to try to cheat," said Dragan Perovic, 22, a law student and the spokesman for the student opposition group Otpor in Mitrovica.

The Yugoslav government had said it would place ballot boxes all over Kosovo, even in regions extremely hostile to Serbs. Mr. Perovic was planning to watch the station in Chirez, a village in the heart of Kosovo Liberation Army territory where, as he put it, "no Serb foot has ever stepped."

But his youthful enthusiasm was reined in by opposition elders, and instead he spent the day watching voting in his hometown of Zvecan, a Serbian area just north of Mitrovica.

Oliver Ivanovic, the head of the Serb National Council and organizer of the opposition monitoring effort, said his people were covering "all the polling stations that have at least a 10 percent chance to be open." The United Nations reported that only about 260 of the potential 489 sites had opened. No station opened in Chirez.

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