BELGRADE, Serbia ( Associated Press) – Kosovo on Friday rejected a call by Western governments to vote for its ethnic Serb minority in neighboring Serbia in a referendum, as it has so far done in Serbian elections, which have been volatile parts of the country. can increase stress. Balkans.
A joint statement by Kosovo’s top officials said Serbs can only cast ballots through the mail or liaison office, without following the previous practice of setting up polling stations in Serb-dominated areas.
“Kosovo law “does not recognize the right of one state to hold a referendum in the sovereign territory of another state,” said a statement from the office of Kosovo’s President Vojosa Osmani. Huh.”
The decision is expected to further strain relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that Belgrade refused to recognize.
A delegation from Kosovo Serbs discussed the issue with Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on Friday.
Sunday’s referendum focused on amendments that Serbia’s government says will boost the independence of the Balkan country’s judiciary as part of reforms needed for the country to move closer to EU membership.
Earlier on Friday, in a joint statement, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union welcomed the Serbian referendum, saying “Elections for eligible voters everywhere and able to vote in the referendum It’s important to be.”
“We regret that the Government of Kosovo has not allowed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to collect ballots from eligible voters residing in Kosovo for the upcoming referendum in accordance with previous practice,” the Western Powers statement said. has gone. ,
“We call on the Government of Kosovo to allow Serbs in Kosovo to exercise their right to vote in elections and electoral processes in accordance with this established practice.”
Serbia has insisted that Kosovo remains part of the country despite a declaration of independence following the 1998–99 conflict, which killed some 13,000 people and halting its crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians after NATO’s bombing of Serbia. ended for.
Serbia has maintained a strong influence in the Serb-dominated regions of Kosovo, although it has formally no authority in the region since it was forced to relinquish control in 1999. Tens of thousands of Serbs live in Kosovo, mostly in the north, next to Serbia.
In a statement issued after a meeting of top officials with ambassadors from five Western countries and the European Union, Kosovo’s President, Parliament Speaker Glauç Konjufka and Prime Minister Albin Kurti stressed that “the issue is not the role of the OSCE, but the role of the OSCE”. Its parallel and illegal structures in Serbia and Kosovo.”
The statement said that “a completely illegal process of opening polling stations and ballot boxes for the referendum of another state, namely Serbia, on the territory of the Republic of Kosovo, will be conducted prior to the collection of the OSCE’s votes.”
The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo continues to be a source of tension in the Balkans. EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing ties have made little progress, although both Kosovo and Serbia have been asked to resolve their differences to move forward in their bid to join the EU. .
Lazarus Seminary in Tirana, Albania contributed to this story.