PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Kosovo on Tuesday rejected a request from the Serbian president to attend the funeral of president Ibrahim Rugova, icon of the Albanian majority's struggle for independence from Serbia.
"(President Boris) Tadic is not welcome at the funeral, especially after his last comments," a senior government official told Reuters.
Tadic made the request on Monday, saying it would only be proper for the Serbian president to go to Kosovo, "which is part of Serbia's territorial integrity, and pay his respects to the political representative of the Albanian people".
The statement touched a nerve in Kosovo, where thousands of Albanians queued for a second day in temperatures as low as minus 15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) for a glimpse of Rugova's flag-draped coffin. The funeral will be held on Thursday.
Serbia has not had formal control over its southern province since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Under U.N. control ever since, the 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is pushing for independence in direct negotiations that were due to begin this week. They were postponed until February after Rugova died of lung cancer on Saturday aged 61.
Newspaper Kosova Sot described Tadic's statement as a provocation. "Serbia's president has not chosen the right moment to express the ambitions of his state towards Kosovo."
Another newspaper, Zeri, quoted a government source as saying no official from Belgrade would be welcome at the funeral.
Tadic's attendance would pose a security headache for the NATO-led peace force. During his first and only visit last year Tadic's convoy was stoned and pelted with eggs in Albanian areas.
Serbia says independence for Kosovo, considered by many Serbs as the cradle of their nation, is out of the question.
But the Albanian majority rejects any return to Serb rule after years of discrimination and often violent repression.
A father-figure to many Kosovo Albanians, Rugova led a decade of passive resistance to Serb domination in the 1990s, creating an underground system of schools and healthcare.
His tactics were eclipsed by the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998-99, but he regained the political ascendancy after the war and was twice elected president.
His death left a political vacuum in Kosovo. Diplomats fear a messy power struggle within his fractious party could delay U.N.-led talks which are seen to be leading to independence.