By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - A senior British diplomat has told Serbs in Kosovo they should accept independence for the disputed Serbian province, Serb negotiator Goran Bogdanovic said on Tuesday.
"(John) Sawers told us the Contact Group had decided Kosovo should be independent. He said Kosovo would be multiethnic, but in the end independent," Bogdanovic told Belgrade radio B92, after meeting the political director of the Foreign Office late on Monday.
A British diplomat based in Kosovo said Sawers had delivered the "painful" message that Serbs, outnumbered roughly 20-1 by pro-independence Albanians, should be realistic.
The Contact Group of major powers has set international policy on Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against the ethnic Albanian majority in a 2-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Sawers was due to meet Serbian leaders in Belgrade on Tuesday ahead of direct Serb-Albanian negotiations later this month -- the first under a U.N.-led drive launched last year to decide Kosovo's final status.
His reported comments stirred tempers in Serbia, which regards Kosovo as the cradle of the nation.
Rich in Orthodox religious heritage, Kosovo was the site of the Serbs' epic 1389 defeat to the Ottoman Turks and has been key to Serb identity and history for the past 1,000 years.
"If that's the opinion of the entire Contact Group, then Belgrade should reconsider its participation in negotiations," said Serbia's Kosovo policy chief, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic.
The ultra-nationalist Radical Party, the country's strongest, said the government should resign rather than go into talks with the outcome already decided.
"I think we should dissolve parliament ... and see what the citizens of Serbia think about all of this," said Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic.
The British diplomat based in Kosovo said Sawers would also take his message to Belgrade.
"They (Serbs) have to look at what the Contact Group says, what the people of Kosovo want and what history will allow," he told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999. Ninety percent of its 2 million people are ethnic Albanians who want independence.
Serbia says that is impossible, despite increasingly obvious hints from the international community to the contrary.
Sawers told reporters on Monday independence could be "delivered" if Albanians showed enough democratic maturity. Western diplomats say this means making concessions to the Serb minority and accepting continued international supervision.
The Contact Group last week told Serbia to "bear in mind the settlement needs to be acceptable to the people of Kosovo."