BELGRADE, Dec 15 (AFP) -
Kosovo Albanians can achieve a form of "independence" within Serbia, the former Yugoslav republic's President Boris Tadic said, clarifying his position in talks on the UN protectorate's future status.
In an interview with AFP, Tadic said he was ready "to recognise all the possible rights of ethnic Albanians and maximum possible independence from Belgrade, but at the same time preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia over Kosovo."
Albanians, who outnumber Serbs, Roma and other minorities in Kosovo by more than nine to one, are determined to secure full independence from Serbia in the province's future status negotiations -- a demand that Belgrade strongly opposes.
The ethnic group could have "some kind of international representatives, but no seat in the United Nations, no defence sector and no ministry of foreign affairs," Tadic said, adding an "international presence" would be needed at borders.
In a bid to gain support for his plan, Tadic is to present it to French President Jacques Chirac next week, making France the third member of the Contact Group of foreign powers in the Balkans after Russia and Germany to be officially informed about the idea.
The UN special envoy for resolving Kosovo's status, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, last month launched initial negotiations in an effort to bring Belgrade and Pristina in from their diametrically opposed positions.
Tadic proposed that two entities should be formed in the province, with the Serbian one "institutionally linked to Belgrade."
"My proposal is to form a Serbian entity which is going to be in charge of few very important fields (including), for example, health care, education, judiciary and local security," Tadic said.
"I'm trying to define the position of Albanian (people) in Kosovo in terms of self-government (and) de facto independent institutions, but at the same time to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of my country in Kosovo," he added.
Forces from Serbia, whose people consider Kosovo the origins of their history and culture, were driven out of the province in June 1999 after a 78-day campaign of air strikes against them by NATO in response to a crackdown against separatist Albanian rebels.
The province, which legally remains a part of Serbia, has since been administered and protected by the United Nations and the military alliance.
"Kosovo is part of our identity. Losing Kosovo would mean we are losing our identity," Tadic said.
However, the Serbian president warned Belgrade was likely to have more of a say about Kosovo's status if it managed to track down the two most wanted war criminals from the Balkans wars of the 1990s, ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic.
Karadzic and Mladic were indicted 10 years ago by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for their roles in the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslim in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.
"We are cooperating with The Hague tribunal but this is not enough," Tadic said.
Last week's arrest of former Croatian general Ante Gotovina -- who was the court's third most wanted war crimes fugitive -- left Serbia, its union partner Montenegro and Bosnia's Serb entity in a difficult position as the only parts of former Yugoslavia yet to arrest and extradite war crime indictees.
"We are doing everything we can," Tadic said, adding however that "those people have a huge (amount of) experience" in avoiding arrest.
The ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has insisted Mladic is hiding in Serbia, but Belgrade has repeatedly denied any knowledge about his whereabouts.
"If he is in Serbia this is a better position, because we have more forces to find him. But if he is not in Serbia we are in trouble because everything is depending on Ratko Mladic's destiny," Tadic said.
"I hope that he is in Serbia, so we can find him and send him to The Hague," he added.