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Serbia “bans” US and UK observers

Serbia’s Central Election Commission has decided to bar observers from the United States and British embassies in Belgrade from monitoring the presidential election on January 20.

The commission said that observers from the pan-European Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which brings together former members of the Soviet Union, would be allowed to observe the balloting. According to the statement, released on Friday, 23 observers from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, and three monitors from the CIS will be accredited. The statement did not elaborate further. The ultra-nationalist Radical Party’s representative on the Electoral Commission, Slavoljub Milenkovic, was quoted by AP news agency as saying that the US and British monitors were barred "because their countries want to destroy us and grab Kosovo away from Serbia." Asked by Balkan Insight, the British embassy in Belgrade said it would not comment until the situation was clarified.

However, ODIHR’s spokesman, Curtis Budden, told Balkan Insight that his organization had already deployed the numbers referred to by the Serbian Election Commission as long-term observers, and since this was to be a so-called “limited election observation mission”, no short-term monitors would be dispatched to observe proceedings on and just before polling day itself. Budden said the long-term mission already deployed included US and British citizens. A statement on ODIHR’s website said its long-term observation mission, overseen by Bulgarian election expert, Nikolai Vulchanov, had been launched on January 6.

The Warsaw-based ODIHR, which operates separately from the OSCE’s permanent mission to Serbia, has dispatched nine international experts to Belgrade and 12 long-term observers across the country, according to the statement. The mission will assess the electoral process in terms of its compliance with OSCE commitments for democratic elections, other international standards, and national legislation, and will issue a comprehensive report, the statement said.

Serbia’s presidential vote will pit President Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party against Tomislav Nikolic of the Radical Party. Other prominent candidates are Velimir Ilic, the Infrastructure Minister of the New Serbia party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition and Cedomir Mihajlovic, the head of the pro-Western opposition Liberal Democratic Party. According to polls quoted by Serbian media, no candidate will get more than 50% of votes required for an outright victory, and a runoff is tentatively scheduled for February 3. (