BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Saturday that Kosovo's independence would be "unacceptable" and urged all in Serbia to back his stand.
"Any sort of independence for Kosovo is completely unacceptable for Serbia," Kostunica said at the gathering of the main board of his Democratic Party of Serbia.
"It would destabilize Serbia's fragile stability and that of the region," he said. "Serbia's entire leadership agrees on this."
Kostunica lately uses every opportunity to reiterate his opposition to Kosovo's independence. The comments appear to be a stepped-up campaign by Belgrade ahead of key negotiations on Kosovo's future which are expected later this year.
Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, although the Balkan republic has had no authority over it since 1999, when NATO bombing halted a brutal Serb crackdown on the province's independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority and forced Belgrade to relinquish control to the United Nations and NATO.
The negotiations on Kosovo's final status can only start once the United Nations deems the province has fulfilled a set of U.N. standards for democracy, human rights and protection of minorities.
Belgrade insists on keeping Kosovo at least formally within its borders while Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians are determined to gain full independence.
At the gathering Saturday, Kostunica said his proposal from earlier this year that Kosovo attain a "broader degree of autonomy falling short of independence" was the best solution.
He also appealed on all political parties in Serbia to "take an active role in efforts to resolve" burning issues for Kosovo, such as return of Serb refugees -- over 200,000 people, mostly Serbs, have fled Kosovo since NATO peacekeepers took over.
"Return of the displaced is of paramount importance for talks on Kosovo's future," Kostunica said. "Nothing can happen without progress on this issue."