Kosovo Oks Referendums In 4 Serb-Majority Municipalities On Whether To Oust Ethnic Albanian Mayors

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Central Electoral Commission on Saturday approved referendums in four Serb-majority municipalities to be held on April 21 on whether to oust their ethnic Albanian mayors whose election last year raised tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.

The commission's decision passed with eight votes in favor and two abstentions, according to a statement.

The commission also confirmed a petition held in January in which about one-fourth of around 45,000 eligible voters in four municipalities in northern Kosovo — Northern Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok — where most of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority lives, were in favor of the new vote. At least 20% of eligible voters was needed.

The petition was one alternative accepted by Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti to meet a constitutional rule to redo the municipal elections. After the April 21 vote on whether to oust the four mayors, Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani is expected to set a date for an early municipal election in that area.

Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the April 2023 elections won by the ethnic Albanian mayors and tried to block them from their offices a month later. Scores of people were injured on both sides as the protesters clashed with Kosovo police and then NATO peacekeepers.

Serbian forces fought a 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian separatists in what was then the province of Kosovo. About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died. Kosovo eventually declared independence in 2008, but the government in Belgrade does not recognize its neighbor as a separate country.

Western powers have stepped up their work to negotiate a normalization agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, fearing instability in the Balkans as Russia’s war rages in Ukraine. The European Union has made it clear that such an agreement is a prerequisite to Kosovo and Serbia joining the bloc.