(Updates an item timed at 1107 GMT with Serbia's prime minister reiterating his offer for Kosovo's autonomy; comment from Serbia's president; statement from Serbia-Montenegro foreign minister; comment on minority rights from top U.N. official in Kosovo.)
BELGRADE (AP)--The U.N. mediator for Kosovo met with Serbian officials Tuesday to discuss the future of the southern province, whose ethnic Albanian population wants independence.
Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president appointed by the U.N. to lead Kosovo talks, met with Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has warned that allowing secession of Kosovo would lead to a spiral of violence in the Balkans.
"A solution for the future status of the province must be an agreed one and in accordance with international law and European values," Kostunica said in a statement after the meeting. He also reiterated his government's offer for " substantial autonomy for Kosovo, within Serbia."
Kosovo's predominantly ethnic Albanian population, however, demand outright independence. Ahtisaari was to meet Wednesday with Kosovo Albanian leaders in Pristina.
The meetings are a follow-up to the first, and mostly inconclusive, round of internationally sponsored talks, held Feb. 20-21 in Vienna.
Kosovo has been an international protectorate since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a Serb crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.
The U.N. envoy also met with Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic who also vows never to agree to secession of the province, which Serbs cherish as their historic heartland.
Tadic, however, told Ahtisaari he was ready to meet directly with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leader, Fatmir Sejdiu.
The U.N. envoy also discussed Kosovo with Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic who proposed "all rights for the (ethnic) Albanian majority, with full protection of rights for Serb and other minorities" in the contested province.
The Serb population in Kosovo declined sharply after the 1999 change of authority.
"Our side is ready for a compromise but it must be respected that we have the same rights and dignity like all other states," Draskovic said after the meeting.
Soren Jessen-Petersen, the top U.N. official in the province, said in Brussels on Tuesday that minority rights would be guaranteed in any final settlement, and called on Kosovo Serbs to take an active part in shaping the province's future.
"The (ethnic Albanian) majority will have to understand they can't stabilize Kosovo if they don't recognize the right of the minority to be protected," Jessen-Petersen said after meeting senior E.U. and NATO officials.