Serbian fury as UN court says Kosovo freedom bid 'not illegal'
KOSOVO scored a significant victory in its struggle to be recognised as a legitimate state yesterday, when the UN's highest court ruled that its 2008 declaration of independence did not break international law.
Serbia denounced the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- more than a decade after it fought a civil war over its former province -- and warned it would encourage separatist movements around the world.
Kosovo has been recognised by 69 countries, including the United States and most European Union nations. It needs 100 for full statehood and the Kosovo government urged its Serbian counterparts to hold further talks on its future.
Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci called the ICJ ruling "the best possible answer for the entire world".
Serbia, backed by its powerful ally Russia, vowed that it would continue its battle for the province that it considers the cradle of its nation.
The ruling was broadcast live on major Serbian TV stations and the bells of all Serb Orthodox churches in Kosovo tolled at 5pm in protest at the ruling.
"Serbia will never recognise the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo," president Boris Tadic told reporters in Belgrade.
Amid fears of a violent backlash against the ruling, NATO-led troops increased their presence in Mitrovica, a Serb-controlled northern city in Kosovo. The declaration in 2008 triggered a furious reaction with nationalists setting fire to the US Embassy in Belgrade.
The Serbians lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after 11 weeks of NATO bombing of Serbia to halt the oppression of two million ethnic Albanians.
In its ruling delivered yesterday, the UN court said that Serbia had "lost any jurisdiction" over Kosovo in 1999 when a UN administration took over after the war. UN-sponsored talks on the status of Kosovo between Pristina and Belgrade collapsed in 2007.
After failing to prevent the declaration of independence, Serbia brought the case to the ICJ, claiming that the secession violated its territorial integrity and was against the principles of international law.
The non-binding opinion of the court said that international law contains "no . . . prohibition of declarations of independence" and therefore the declaration "did not violate general international law."
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the ruling would not affect the role of the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force.
"KFOR will continue to implement its mandate to maintain a safe environment in an impartial manner, for the benefit of all communities," he said. (© Independent News Service)