By Shaban Buza
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Kosovo's Serb minority on Wednesday rejected a plan for Serb self-rule proposed by ethnic Albanian leaders and asked for more concessions, delaying reforms vital to talks on the province's future.
Kosovo's government is under international pressure to do more for minority rights and democracy before a decision on whether "final status" talks can start this year. A major issue is decentralising power to Serbs, who live in enclaves guarded by NATO-led peacekeepers.
The government presented a revised decentralisation pilot plan on Tuesday, saying it should meet Serb demands for bigger self-governing areas. Serbs rejected a previous draft, saying it gave them only small, isolated and economically unviable clusters.
On Wednesday, deputies of the moderate Serb List for Kosovo and Metohija (SLKM), the main Serb coalition which took part in last year's election, agreed to reject the new draft.
Leading SLKM deputy Randjel Nojkic told Reuters that, rather than proposals in principle, Serbs wanted figures on paper. "We rejected the proposed idea. We concluded there will be no talks without an all-inclusive plan for decentralisation in Kosovo, with precise numbers on how many (Serb) villages will make up municipalities," Nojkic said.
SLKM leader Oliver Ivanovic told Belgrade-based Beta news agency the revised draft "had improved compared to the original version, but insufficiently compared to what we are asking for".
Kosovo Albanian government spokesman Daut Dauti said the rejection was "hurried and irrational". "The decentralisation plan continues to be debated and updated with other details," Dauti said. "Consultations with the Serb and other communities are ongoing: the final version of the plan has not been seen by them, it doesn't even exist."
U.N. DECISION LOOMS
Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority wants independence from Serbia, six years after becoming a U.N. protectorate when NATO aircraft drove out Serb forces accused of killing civilians while fighting an ethnic Albanian separatist insurgency.
About 180,000 Serbs fled revenge attacks but 100,000 stayed. Most shun Kosovo authorities and look to Belgrade for political direction and economic aid. The West wants them integrated and with more self-government rights before deciding whether "final status" talks can start this year.
In July it chastised the government for stalling on minority rights, a few weeks before U.N. envoy Kai Eide was due to submit a report on whether talks should begin -- possibly in October.
If his review is positive, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a special envoy for what could be six to nine months of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina.
Concessions such as the decentralisation are also opposed by some ethnic Albanians loath to give too much too early or play into the hands of those advocating partition along ethnic lines.
Analysts warn of a repeat of the Kosovo-wide riots against minorities in March last year should talks be delayed. Belgrade insists the southern province of 2 million people is the cradle of the Serb nation and can never become independent.