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Serbia, Kosovo vow to keep peace on track after poll violence

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The premiers of Kosovo and Serbia, Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic, vowed Wednesday to keep a peace deal on track despite election violence by Serb extremists in Kosovo.

"Both governments condemned the incidents," Thaci said as election officials in Kosovo ordered a re-run vote in a town where Serbs stormed a polling station and destroyed ballot boxes on Sunday.

The election was part of an historic April peace deal brokered by the European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton, who in exchange offered the onetime foes closer ties with the 28-nation bloc.

"I am pleased that the prime ministers agreed today on the way forward for completing successfully the electoral process in northern Kosovo," Ashton said, after hosting the two premiers in the latest in a series of EU-sponsored peace talks.

She also said the two had agreed to "continue with accelerated pace" on the ground-breaking April deal, a key step in Serbia's bid to join the EU.

Dacic meanwhile urged ethnic Serbs, who make up the majority in northern Kosovo, to turn out in numbers for the November 17 re-run in Kosovska Mitrovica and to peacefully cast their votes.

"We cannot expect millions of people to sacrifice for those who have such imprudent stance," he told reporters. "Nobody can expect (Serbia's) seven million people to sacrifice for 20,000 or so in Mitrovica."

"The vote must be peaceful."

Belgrade last year was granted EU "candidate status" but is awaiting an official date, hopefully in January, to start membership negotiations.

The decision expected in the coming weeks hinged on Serbia's support for the Sunday polls. Serbia does not recognise breakaway Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence.

Some 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo, which has a population of 1.8 million. Around a third of the Serbs live in the north where they make up the majority and control some public institutions.

Kosovo's Thaci meanwhile said Pristina "has passed the European test by organising an election throughout the territory and by including all the people".

In Kosovo, the central electoral commission said results from three polling stations in Serb-populated Kosovska Mitrovica were "annulled due to damaged ballot boxes".

Voter participation by minority Serbs in the north, who have rejected Pristina's authority since 2008, was crucial for both Serbia and Kosovo to accelerate their EU membership bids.

Kosovo's independence is recognised by more than 100 states, including the United States and 23 of 28 EU member countries.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131106/serbia-kosovo-vow-keep-peace-track-after-poll-violence