BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP)--Montenegrin officials will not take part in coming talks on the future of the contested Kosovo province, the republic's prime minister said Thursday.
Milo Djukanovic said that the issue of Kosovo - Serbia's southern province which has been run by the United Nations since 1999 - is Serbia's problem and that Serbia should deal with it.
"We believe that this is the issue that should be handled by Serbia and that the (negotiating) team should be led by the people from Serbia," Djukanovic said at a news conference.
Montenegro and Serbia together form the Serbia-Montenegro union.
The Balkan country also formally includes the U.N.-run province of Kosovo. But the province's final status remains a contested issue as its majority ethnic Albanians want to split from Serbia while Belgrade wishes to retain at least formal control.
Kosovo has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when the alliance bombed Serbia for 78 days to end a crackdown by then-president Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanian rebels.
The U.N. Security Council has endorsed the start of the talks on Kosovo and appointed former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as a special envoy.
Djukanovic said that it is "in the interest of Montenegro that the Kosovo issue be solved next year." He added that Kosovo is "the only remaining security problem in the Balkans."
Djukanovic's government also wants to split Montenegro from the union with Serbia. The authorities have tentatively scheduled a referendum on the issue for early next year, but have faced pressure from the European Union to postpone it until the end of the Kosovo talks.
E.U. leaders fear that Montenegro's independence from Serbia-Montenegro union could lead to more instability in the volatile Balkans.