PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A senior British diplomat has told Serbs that independence is the best solution for the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo in talks due within days, Serb negotiators said on Tuesday.
"[John] Sawers told us the Contact Group had decided Kosovo should be independent. He said Kosovo would be multi-ethnic, but in the end independent," Goran Bogdanovic, a Kosovo Serb, told Belgrade radio B92, after meeting the political director of the British Foreign Office late on Monday.
A second Serb negotiator in Belgrade, who attended a meeting between Sawers and the Serbian prime minister on Tuesday, said the diplomat saw independence as "practically the only solution to the Kosovo problem".
The Contact Group of major powers has set international policy on Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against the ethnic Albanian majority in a 2-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials are due to meet in Vienna on Feb. 20 for the first round of direct negotiations since the United Nations began a process last year to decide Kosovo's final status.
A British diplomat based in Kosovo said Sawers had delivered the "painful" message that Serbs, outnumbered roughly 20-1 by pro-independence Albanians, should be realistic.
Speaking to Reuters in Belgrade, Sawers said Kosovo's future should reflect the wishes of the majority of the population, echoing a statement issued by the Contact Group last week.
"It's no secret that the aspirations of the great majority of Kosovars are for independence," he said. "Some of these messages are unwelcome".
The comments stirred tempers in Serbia, which says the amputation of 13 percent of its territory is unthinkable. Rich in Orthodox religious heritage, Kosovo was the site of the Serbs' epic 1389 defeat to the Ottoman Turks and has been key to Serb identity and history for the past 1,000 years.
"It is utterly unacceptable to present one-sided and selective approaches to solving the issue of Kosovo before the talks have even begun," Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement issued after meeting Sawers.
The ultra-nationalist Radical Party, the country's strongest, said the government should resign and call elections rather than go into talks with the outcome already decided.
Legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999. Ninety percent of its 2 million people are ethnic Albanians who want independence.
Serbia says that is impossible, despite increasingly explicit hints from Western powers that Kosovo cannot return under any form of control from Belgrade.
Sawers told reporters on Monday independence could be "delivered" in 2006 if Albanians showed enough democratic maturity. Western diplomats say this means making concessions to the Serb minority and accepting further international supervision.
(Additional reporting by Beti Bilandzic in Belgrade)