By Douglas Hamilton
BELGRADE, (Reuters) - Serbian ultra-nationalist opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic on Thursday called the newly appointed United Nations envoy on Kosovo "a criminal returning to the scene of the crime to finish his work".
"I do not trust (Martti) Ahtisaari, because he represents the organisation that wants to take Kosovo away from us," Nikolic, acting leader of the Serbian Radical Party, told a news conference.
Ahtisaari a former Finnish president, was the European Union envoy in 1999 who delivered terms to Belgrade for an end to 11 weeks of NATO bombing, compelling the withdrawal of Serb forces accused of killing 10,000 Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist rebels.
Legally part of Serbia, the province has been run by the United Nations for six years, secured by 17,000 NATO-led troops. The 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority demands independence.
Nikolic's party -- Serbia's strongest with over 30 percent suppport -- is stoking fears that Serbia's Orthodox Christian heartland will be handed over to Muslim Albanians on the say-so of the West and over the heads of a weak government in Belgrade.
He acknowledged he would probably not be on the Serbian negotiating team when talks on Kosovo's future begin later this month and warned the government: "If they do a bad job of negotiating, they should be worried for themselves".
The Radicals, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is in a prison in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes, are a constant political gadfly for Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
Unlike the government, they see no need to acknowledge Serbia's dilemma as it seeks to hang on to Kosovo but also join the EU and NATO by finally shedding the rogue state image it acquired during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
They have made clear they will brand Kostunica a traitor if Serbia loses Kosovo in the talks, which are expected to reach a conclusion in mid-2006. Most foreign observers see some form of independence for the Albanians as the most likely outcome.
Earlier this week, Nikolic forecast "mayhem on the streets" if Kosovo broke away, adding that "I will be at the front".
A senior Radical Party member, Aleksandar Vucic, was quoted on Thursday as suggesting the best way of blocking Kosovo's independence was to declare it unlawfully occupied territory.
This would create problems for all those who decide to acknowledge the new state and preserve the chances of having the status of Kosovo discussed in five, 20 or 30 years, in different and more favourable circumstances for Serbia, Vucic said.
Any suggestion that the issue can safely be shelved, even for a year, has already been dismissed by the United Nations and the major powers, including Russia, often seen as Serbia's Orthodox Christian big brother on the U.N. Security Council.