PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on Wednesday firmly ruled out granting autonomy to ethnic Serbs in the country's north in exchange for Serbia's support in getting a U.N. seat to its former province.
"There will be no partition, no autonomy, no special status," Thaci told The Associated Press in an interview.
His comments come a day after Serbian leader Ivica Dacic suggested that his country could back Kosovo's U.N. membership if it allows self-rule for minority Serbs.
In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia to stop its crackdown against independence-seeking Kosovo Albanians, forcing Belgrade to relinquish control of its then-province.
Serbia maintains that it will never recognize the 2008 declaration of independence of its former province, but it has taken steps seen as a tacit acknowledgement of Kosovo's territorial integrity.
Thaci welcomed Serbia's "change of attitude" but insisted membership in the U.N. "is not up to the will" of Belgrade. Thaci and Dacic are set to meet in Brussels Thursday for another round of talks mediated by the European Union.
Kosovo's independence is recognized by 96 countries including most EU countries and the United States, but strongly rejected by Serbia.
Kosovo's leader conceded membership in the U.N. will be a complex issue since Russia, which has veto power in the U.N. Security Council, backs Serbia in rejecting Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
But he voiced hope that negotiating a peace treaty between the two former foes could remove that obstacle. "There will be no reason for Russia to obstruct Kosovo when Kosovo and Serbia will recognize each other," Thaci said.
Thursday's talks will for the first time deal directly with the thorny issue of the Serb-run north that defies the ethnic-Albanian dominated authorities and wants to be part of Serbia.
The Serbs that live in the north look to Belgrade for instructions and funding and defy Pristina's authority.