Voting on Sunday in a small Serb pocket of the majority-Albanian country was halted after masked men attacked polling stations at three locations on the Serb side of the ethnically-divided town of Mitrovica, lobbing tear gas and smashing ballot boxes.
Participation of the Serb north in the Kosovo-wide council and mayoral elections was central to an accord brokered by the EU in April to integrate the north with the rest of the Balkan country, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Agreement to the pact opened the door to EU membership talks with Serbia, pencilled in for January 2014.
But the 40,000-50,000 Serbs living in north Kosovo remain suspicious of the deal, and hardliners campaigned for a boycott of the election and in some cases openly intimidated would-be voters. Turnout in parts of the north reached more than 20 percent, but barely ten percent in the Serb half of Mitrovica.
Sunday’s events point to the challenge facing the EU, Serbia and Kosovo in implementing the deal brokered by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
“We condemn the violent incidents of yesterday in Mitrovica north, because they have disrupted an otherwise very orderly run electoral process in the rest of Kosovo,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Ashton, told a press briefing in Brussels.
NATO, which has around 6,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo and deployed to the scene of Sunday’s attacks, said it would remain vigilant.