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NATO Chief Calls For Restraint During Voting In Kosovo In Serbian Elections

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged all leaders and all communities to show restraint during the voting process in Kosovo in the Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on Sunday.

In a statement on Friday, Rasmussen said it was important to avoid any unilateral actions or statements that could raise tensions in this critical period. He welcomed the agreement reached to allow the OSCE to facilitate the process and called on both Pristina and Belgrade to continue cooperating with the international community in order to ensure a calm and peaceful vote.

Rasmussen expressed confidence that NATO's peacekeeping force KFOR will enforce its mission to preserve a safe and secure environment for all people of Kosovo in an impartial way, as it has done for over a decade. He said he had "full confidence in the judgment and professionalism of the Commander of KFOR to use all the means within his mandate and all the instruments at his disposal, including the second battalion of the Operational Reserve Force, which has now been deployed to Kosovo."

He said KFOR and European Union's security force EULEX would continue to coordinate closely on the ground. He reminded that "the future of the whole region is integration in the Euro-Atlantic region, so we must do all we can to avoid any possible setback in the region's progress towards that goal."

On Monday, Pristina and Belgrade reached an agreement to let Kosovo Serbs vote in Serbia's presidential and parliamentary polls, which are scheduled to take place on May 6. The OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OmiK) will facilitate the voting.

The plan is for the OSCE to provide the logistics, as Kosovo is opposed to the Serbian state playing any role in voting inside Kosovo. Serbian nationals living in other countries can vote in the presidential and general elections, in their country of residence.

It is estimated that there are around 100,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, making up about five per cent of the country's population.

Serbian President Boris Tadic's surprise resignation last month paved the way for joint parliamentary and presidential elections. Serbian presidential polls will simultaneously be held along with parliamentary, regional and local elections, which had already been scheduled for May 6.

Pro-European Tadic is seeking re-election. He is facing stiff challenge from nationalist Opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic, who has the tacit support of Russia.

Serbia was recognized as an official candidate to the European Union in March after it signed two cooperation agreements with Kosovo, and extradited to the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal two fugitives for atrocities committed during the Balkan Wars.

At a press conference announcing his resignation on April 4, Tadic vowed that the Serbian government would "never recognize Kosovo," which seceded in 2008.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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