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Serbia's president rules out war over Kosovo

Serbia’s president said Friday that those who threatened bloodshed were diminishing the Balkan republic's chances of keeping Kosovo, ruling out a war over the province.

"Any war and violence most certainly jeopardize any possibility that Kosovo would ever remain in Serbia, as well as the vital interests of our citizens," Tadic told the independent Beta news agency.

Tadic's made the comments only days after a senior government official suggested in an interview with state-run television that Serbia was entitled to use military force to defend its right to Kosovo in case it declares independence.

Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbia's nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said on state TV late Tuesday that "state interests can be defended through war" if necessary. He did not elaborate, but added that war "is a legitimate option" if the West recognizes Kosovo's independence.

Simic's statement illustrates mounting nationalism in Serbia over Kosovo, as well as differences between Kostunica's hardline camp and Tadic's moderates within the Serbian coalition government.

Kosovo formally is part of Serbia, but it has been under U.N. administration since a 1999 war. Talks to determine Kosovo's status ended without an agreement last week, and the province's majority Albanians said they would unilaterally split from Serbia.

Serbia has vowed never to agree to Kosovo independence, although it has had no authority over the province since a NATO air war in 1999 forced it to end a crackdown against the Kosovo separatists and pull out of the region.

Tadic told Beta that "it is our vital interest not to allow any partition of Kosovo from Serbia."

He said Serbia had prepared "a series" of diplomatic and legal measures to counter a possible declaration of independence by Kosovo, and to retaliate against countries that might recognize the self-styled Kosovo state. He did not elaborate.

"We should do all we can so that such a declaration (of independence) does not happen and that the talks continue, and a compromise solution is reached that would be acceptable for both sides," Tadic said.

He said any other scenario would lead to "uncertainty."

Western governments involved in the Kosovo talks have suggested there was no point in holding more Serb-Albanian talks. The United States and its allies also have indicated they would recognize an independent Kosovo.

Russia, however, has backed Serbia on the issue, blasting Western policies on Kosovo and insisting on more negotiations.

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