PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP)--Montenegro's government leader Tuesday rejected Serbia's criticism about his recent meeting with the separatist leader of Kosovo, the breakaway province whose future status is being discussed in U.N.- mediated talks.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said he saw no problem in meeting last week with Agim Ceku, the ethnic Albanian leader of Kosovo, which has been an international protectorate since the 1998-99 war there between Serb troops and the separatist rebels.
"I absolutely reject any objections from Serbia concerning Ceku's visit...we did not discuss Kosovo's future status," said Djukanovic, following accusations by Serbian officials that receiving Ceku was a "stab in the back" to Serbia's efforts to prevent Kosovo's secession.
Serbia's leadership has said that accepting Ceku as a visiting statesman meant Montenegro's readiness to recognize Kosovo as a state.
Talks over Kosovo's future are under way under the auspices of the U.N., Western powers and Russia. The province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999 when the alliance's bombing forced Serbs to halt their crackdown on the separatists and pull out.
The crackdown was led by former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who was toppled in 2000 by pro-democracy politicians. The new leadership contends that, despite Milosevic's devastating brutality in Kosovo, Serbs cannot give up completely on the southern province, considered Serbia's historic heartland.
"It's an inertia of old, failed policies," Djukanovic said about the comments from Belgrade. "Whatever Kosovo becomes in the future, it borders Montenegro" and needs good relations with neighbors.
Montenegro itself declared independence from Serbia earlier this year. Belgrade did not contest that move because Montenegro was a partner republic from the old Yugoslav federation, but insists that Kosovo is not entitled to the same.
Ceku declared after his Friday meeting with Djukanovic that Kosovo would follow in Montenegro's steps.
Djukanovic himself is expected to step down as Montenegro's prime minister Wednesday.
His Democratic Party of Socialists triumphed in recent elections, but Djukanovic -for years the most powerful figure in Montenegro -said he would not seek a third term and has hand-picked a trusted aide, Justice Minister Zeljko Sturanovic, as his successor.