By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Veterans of the Kosovo Albanian guerrilla army expressed disgust on Tuesday at the idea of negotiating with Serbia on the future of the province, and said protests were possible.
"Based on the blood that was shed ... on the historic, political and legal arguments, these talks are imposed and unjust," said Sherif Krasniqi, head of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) veterans.
"We're afraid the aim of these talks on status is to convince the people of Kosovo to accept whatever is served up to them. Kosovo Albanians want only recognition of their right to self-determination, to decide their own future," he told Reuters in his rundown office in Pristina's "KLA" street.
Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials hold direct talks next week in Vienna, the first since the United Nations launched a mission late last year to decide the fate of Serbia's southern province, a U.N. protectorate for almost seven years.
Two million Kosovo Albanians, roughly 90 percent of the population, say independence is non-negotiable. Serbia insists Kosovo is the sacred cradle of the Serb nation and can never become a separate state.
The KLA emerged in 1997 as Kosovo Albanians grew tired of a policy of passive resistance to Serb repression. Its guerrilla war drew a brutal response by Serb forces, accused of killing 10,000 Albanian civilians and expelling 800,000 more.
"We talked with Serbia through the war we fought," said Krasniqi, who was based in the hardline Drenica region.
Lords of their own manor since NATO bombs drove out Serb troops in 1999, Kosovo Albanians are in no mood to compromise. They look on the U.N.-led process of negotiation with Belgrade with deep suspicion and distaste.
"From the promises of the local and international politicians ... we don't believe the status of Kosovo will match what the people fought for," said Krasniqi, a small, grey-haired man in a brown striped suit.
He said the possibility of protests "cannot be excluded". Asked if Kosovo's U.N. overseers should be concerned about the veterans, he replied: "They should be. Our members have sacrificed the most and deserve to be respected".
The major powers have not publicly stated their intentions, but Western diplomats say Kosovo will almost certainly win independence by the end of 2006.
But there will be strings attached, including significant concessions and guarantees for the beleaguered Serb minority and some form of continued international supervision.
Keeping a lid on the frustrations and fears felt by Krasniqi and others like him will be key. Diplomats say a repeat of Albanian mob riots against Serbs in March 2004, in which 19 people died, could derail the entire process.
(Additional reporting by Shaban Buza)