PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- An ethnic Albanian leader said Saturday the independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority of Serbia's Kosovo Province will not participate in early federal elections, a move which may affect attempts to oust Serbia's hard-line communist leader.
The declaration appeared to be a blow to Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, who had sought Albanian participation in the vote as he attempts to forge a coalition against communist Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
Panic, a Belgrade-born U.S. citizen chosen as a 'non-political' prime minister, and Yugoslav Federation President Dobrica Cosic called the early elections in hopes of ousting Milosevic.
'In principle, we have no reason to go to these elections,' Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, told United Press International at his headquarters in the provincial capital of Pristina.
Asked if there was a chance he might be open to negotiations, Rugova replied: 'No, you cannot say that.'
It was the first time Rugova categorically ruled out ethnic Albanian participation in early Yugoslav Parliament elections called for Dec. 20.
Rugova asserted he was bound by a September 1991 'referendum,' in which Kosovo's 1.8 million-strong mostly Muslim ethnic Albanian majority voted to secede, and May 1991 elections for a self-declared ethnic Albanian legislature that his party won overwhelmingly.
'We have already had our elections. We have also had a referendum on independence. The results of these elections and that referendum are obligatory for us,' Rugova said.
He contended ethnic Albanians do not recognize the truncated federation of Serbia and Montenegro, the only two of the six former Yugoslav republics that did not secede from the war-shattered former Balkan federation.
'The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was forged without our consent,' said Rugova.
His decision represented a serious blow to Yugoslav Prime Minister Panic in his ongoing power struggle with Serbia's President Milosevic, whose hard-line rule and police repression in Kosovo has intensified the ethnic Albanian secession movement.
Milosevic has justified what international human rights groups and Western governments regard as one of the worst human rights crises in Europe by contending he is protecting the province's 200,000 Serbs.
Serbs cherish Kosovo as the birthplace of their Christian Orthodox religion and centuries-old culture, and the grave frictions with ethnic Albanians have fueled fears of an explosion in ethic bloodletting.
Panic has sought Rugova's participation in the polls as part of an apparent attempt to cobble together an anti-Milosevic coalition that would also include Serbian opposition groups, minority parties and the ruling communists of Montenegro -- who have signaled a break in an alliance with the Serbian leader.
Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia won a four-year federal Parliament majority in May elections.
Panic and Cosic believe Milosevic's departure is a prime condition for the lifting of U.N. economic sanctions, imposed on Serbia and Montenegro in May because of Milosevic's support for the Serbian territorial conquests in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Panic has been cooperating closely with the co-chairmen of the U.N.- European Community-sponsored peace conference on former Yugoslavia, Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, and briefly met Rugova on Thursday when he accompanied the pair to Pristina.
Owen and Vance, in their attempts to resolve the Kosovo tangle, have rejected independence for the province, but called for a high-degree of ethnic Albanian autonomy.
Panic, who met briefly with Rugova during a visit to Pristina on Thursday with Vance and Owen, supports the idea, which has been rejected by Milosevic.
Rugova reiterated his own rejection of the proposal.
'We haven't agreed on the status of Kosovo,' said Rugova. 'It is the opinion of Vance and Owen, and it is only one opinion.'
Despite a failure by Vance and Owen to bring him together for talks with Serbian regime officials, Rugova termed their daylong visit 'a success,' referring to his insistence on international mediation on the crisis.
He said while he would continue to seek a negotiated resolution, ethnic Albanians would also pursue peaceful protests.