PRISTINA: Kosovo citizens go to the polls Sunday for the first time since the ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia last year and amid fears that local Serbs will boycott the vote.

More then 1.5 million people are eligible to vote in the local election for mayors and local council members in 36 municipalities, including the capital Pristina.

The polls are seen as a test of Kosovo's readiness to organise democratic elections on its own. Since the end of 1998-1999 war, the territory had been run by a United Nations mission until it seceded from Serbia in February 2008 despite strong opposition by Belgrade.

In his last address ahead the vote, President Fatmir Sejdiu on Friday called for a massive turnout, saying that these elections are of crucial importance for Kosovo.

"This Sunday should prove to the world that Kosovo is a stable country that produces peace and stability in the region," he said.

But a key issue at stake is how many local Serbs will boycott the vote as urged by authorities in Belgrade and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

About 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, some 40,000 in the north near the border with Serbia. They rejected the independence declaration and have kept strong links with authorities in Belgrade, receiving financial and political support from the Serbian government.

However, according to the electoral commission, 22 of the 74 political parties, coalitions and individual candidates in the polls represent Serbs.

At least some of 80,000 Serbs living in enclaves in central Kosovo were expected to vote despite boycott calls from Belgrade.

The polling stations are due to open at 7 am (0600 GMT) and close twelve hours later, with the first unofficial results expected by midnight.

A runoff will be organised on December 13 in municipalities where candidates fail to win more than 50 percent of vote in the first round.

Kosovo police have stepped up security for election day.

The 13,000 troops in the NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) are also ready to react at very short notice if needed, according to its commander, German General Markus Bentler.

The polls were set to be monitored by local and international observers, including a European Union mission and a European Parliament delegation.

More then 60 countries, including the United States and the most of the European Union have recognised