Kosovo on Saturday barred Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic from visiting the seat of Serbia's Orthodox Church for the Eastern Rite's Christmas next week saying it was a response to Belgrade denying entry to officials from Pristina.

"Nikolic will be able to visit Kosovo only when (he) provides reciprocity in visits for our leaders" to southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanians are a majority, Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci told journalists.

The decision was made "in consultation with international partners," he added.

Earlier this week Nikolic asked the EU missions in both Belgrade and Pristina to arrange for him to visit the Gracanica monastery on Monday to attend a Serb Orthodox Christmas liturgy. It would have been Nikolic's first visit to Kosovo since he took office last May.

The monastery, only some five kilometres (three miles) from Pristina, is the seat of Serbia's Orthodox Church in Kosovo.

EU offices forwarded the request to the Kosovo government, which refused to allow the visit.

Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008, is recognised by nearly 100 countries. However, Belgrade still opposes the move and considers the territory its southern province.

Currently, Kosovo officials cannot visit Serbia because Belgrade does not recognise its institutions.

Despite the status dispute, Pristina and Belgrade in 2011 launched EU-brokered talks aimed at solving border demarcation, freedom of movement, energy and transportation issues that would facilitate the lives of Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants.

The Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers, Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, are to meet on January 17 in Brussels.

Improving ties with Kosovo is a main condition for Serbia to obtain a date for the start of EU accessions talks. Belgrade obtained candidate status in the 27-nation bloc in March 2012.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]