BELGRADE (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked Serbia to help develop soccer in its former southern province of Kosovo and has drawn up a plan to encourage the territory's youngsters to play the game.
"Having come to Serbia at the invitation of your Prime Minister (Ivica Dacic), I asked him to find the solidarity and a solution required by your neighbours in Kosovo to let their young players play football," Blatter told a news conference in the Serbian FA's Stara Pazova headquarters on Wednesday.
"Such a delicate problem can't be resolved in two hours, it has to be solved step by step but there are openings to solve it in the future," the president of world soccer's governing body added.
"A timetable has been drawn up so that mechanism is in place after the end of October to induce players in the territory of Kosovo into the game."
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999, when NATO waged an 11-week air war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency.
Kosovo became a ward of the United Nations and declared independence in 2008. It has since been recognised by more than 90 countries, including the United States and 22 of the European Union's 27 members, but it is not a United Nations member.
Serbia says it will never recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state and has lobbied hard to prevent its accession to a range of international political and sporting bodies.
Serbian FA president Tomislav Karadzic said the country would follow Blatter's advice but also stressed it had no intention of caving in to what he called "demands by various football confederations to let Kosovo jump the queue and play official matches before they win a UN seat".
"FIFA's decision is reasonable because all children have the right to play football, including those in Kosovo, but it is clear that their clubs and national teams cannot be allowed to compete before they are recognised by the United Nations," he said.
"Solutions are being sought to allow Kosovans to play football without jeopardising the integrity of our country, as sport goes hand in hand with the political aspect of the issue.
"Dacic has advised the Serbian Football Association not to resolve this issue on our own and we will certainly tackle it in conjunction with the government," he said.
Blatter added: "This will require a little bit of patience and a lot of trust and confidence. At the end of October we should know exactly where we are and I am sure there will be movement towards a solution we have envisaged together."
Editing by Sonia Oxley