Belgrade is ready for direct talks with Kosovo's pro-independence leaders on the future of the disputed province, an international envoy said Tuesday.
The unprecedented negotiations would include a meeting between Serbian President Boris Tadic and Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova, said Michael Scheffer, a German member of a group of international envoys touring Serbia and Kosovo.
The so-called "Contact Group," which also includes envoys from the United States, the European Union, Russia, France, Italy and Britain, was discussing future solutions for the troubled province. Kosovo has been an international protectorate administered by the U.N. and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force since 1999, when a NATO air war halted the Serb crackdown on ethnic-Albanian separatists.
Belgrade said Monday it was prepared to accept a "compromise solution" for the future status of Kosovo but stood firmly against independence for the territory.
Serbs consider Kosovo an integral part of their nation, but the province's ethnic Albanian majority wants complete independence.
Scheffer said that it was good that both Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials will be represented in the future talks on Kosovo and that all sides have agreed that the province's future status "cannot be returned to before 1999" when Serbia had control over it.
The territory formally remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, the small union that replaced a collapsed Yugoslavia. [ 12-04-05 1119GMT ]