In another blow to U.N. officials in Kosovo, moderate Serbs who took part in last month's general election announced Wednesday they would not take up their parliamentary seats until the beleaguered minority is granted self-rule.
A few hours later, Kosovo's U.N. administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen arrived in Belgrade for two days of talks with Serbian leaders aimed at solving an impasse left by the massive Serb boycott of the Oct. 23 vote.
Petersen met Wednesday evening with Serbia's conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who supported the Serb election boycott. The U.N. administrator is to meet other Serbian leaders Thursday.
A statement issued after the meeting with Kostunica said that it focused on possible talks on decentralization of powers in Kosovo, as well as a number of other issues such as protection of Serb cultural monuments and other "technical" issues.
Less than one percent of Kosovo's Serb voters cast ballots at Kosovo election -- a major setback to international efforts to forge a multiethnic society in a province run by the United Nations and NATO-led peacekeepers since 1999.
Petersen and other U.N. officials were hoping that moderate Serbs who ran in the election would join the Kosovo assembly -- where they are granted 10 seats -- despite the boycott by Serb voters and pressure from hardliners.
But the Serb leaders said after their meeting with Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic that they would enter the Kosovo parliament only if the Serbs are granted self-rule, including the right to separate police and judiciary as well as health and education systems.
"Until then ... the Serb deputies should not take part in the work of the Kosovo parliament," said a statement from Tadic's office issued after the meeting.
Oliver Ivanovic, who topped the Serb election list for the Kosovo election, told B-92 radio that "we need to see a substantial improvement" in security for Serbs and the return of the tens of thousands of Serbs displaced after the 1999 NATO air campaign.
Ivanovic added that the Serb leaders will review their decision in 90 days.
Kosovo's Serbs cited lack of security as the main reason for boycotting the elections. The Serbs live in isolated enclaves in Kosovo, which are guarded by NATO troops and occasionally targeted in ethnically motivated violence. In March, ethnic Albanian mobs drove thousands of Serbs from their homes.
The Serb demands for autonomy within Kosovo have been rejected in the past by both international officials in the province and the ethnic Albanian leaders who said Serb self-rule would lead to divisions along ethnic lines.