PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — U.N. officials on Saturday set Oct. 28 as the date for Kosovo's first-ever internationally supervised elections, an event promoted as a step toward a democratic society.
The top U.N. administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, announced the date for the local elections more than a month after the deadline for registration. The elections will choose members for 30 municipal assemblies in Kosovo.
Serbs in the province, however, overwhelmingly refused to register, even though the United Nations had extended the deadline to encourage minorities to sign up. The United Nations wanted substantial participation from all ethnic groups to give legitimacy to the balloting.
More than 1 million people registered, but the province's main ethnic minorities — in particular, Serbs and Gypsies, or Roma — were missing from the voter lists.
Kouchner, speaking to reporters after meeting with local residents of the town of Vucitrn, 18 miles north of Pristina, described the Serb decision not to participate as being unfortunate.
"I am very sorry for them and I think it was a mistake," he said.
A key Kosovo Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic, however, expressed disinterest in the announcement.
"I don't care," Ivanovic said when asked about the election plans. "The Serbs won't vote. They won't participate. Let Kouchner have his elections if it makes him happy."
Meanwhile, the Tanjug news agency, a mouthpiece for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government, criticized the decision.
"Rather than effort to create democratic institutions in Kosovo, Kouchner has hereby proven himself to be an accomplice of ethnic Albanian separatists and terrorists who have ethnically cleansed the province of Serbs since his arrival there," the report said.
Tens of thousands of Serbs have fled Kosovo in the year since NATO-led peacekeepers took charge after a 78-day air war to force Milosevic to end his repression of ethnic Albanians.
U.N. officials hope the ballot would move the province toward greater normalcy.
Nineteen political parties have been certified to take part in elections, as have two coalitions, three citizens initiatives and 15 independent candidates.