Kosovo’s split from Ser­bia deemed le­gal

in­ter­na­tional court’s rul­ing isn’t bind­ing but sets prece­dent

Austin American-Statesman - - A WORLD & NATION - By Henry Chu

LONDON — Kosovo’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Ser­bia in 2008 didn’t vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law, the United Na­tions’ high­est court de­clared Thurs­day in a closely watched case that could have sig­nif­i­cant reper­cus­sions for se­ces­sion­ist move­ments around the world.

The opin­ion by the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice, while not bind­ing, is likely to give a con­sid­er­able boost to the tiny Balkan coun­try’s quest for full state­hood. The de­ci­sion also rep­re­sents a blow to Ser­bia, which con­sid­ers Kosovo part of its ter­ri­tory. At present, 69 na­tions, in­clud­ing the U.S., rec­og­nize Kosovo as a sep­a­rate coun­try, but a num­ber of ma­jor pow­ers, such as Rus­sia and China, do not.

“Now it is time for Europe to unite be­hind a com­mon fu­ture,” U.S. State Depart­ment spokesman P.J. Crow­ley said.

The court, based in The Hague, Nether­lands, de­cided that Kosovo “did not vi­o­late gen­eral in­ter­na­tional law” in declar­ing it­self in­de­pen­dent in Fe­bru­ary 2008, be­cause there are no pro­hi­bi­tions against such dec­la­ra­tions.

“I ex­pect Ser­bia to turn and come to us, to talk with us on so many is­sues of mu­tual in- ter­est, of mu­tual im­por­tance,” Kosovo’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sk­ender Hy­seni told Reuters. “But such talks can only take place as talks be­tween sov­er­eign states.”

But Ser­bian Pres­i­dent Boris Tadic re­jected the rul­ing, telling re­porters in Ser­bia’s cap­i­tal, Bel­grade, that his coun­try “would never rec­og­nize the uni­lat­er­ally pro­claimed in­de­pen­dence of Kosovo.”

In Kosovo’s eth­ni­cally di­vided north­ern city of Mitro­vica, eth­nic Serb Ti­homir Markovic called the rul­ing shame­ful. “Af­ter this, it will be hard for us, the Serbs in Kosovo,” he said.

Bel­grade main­tains that the re­gion has been a fun­da­men­tal com­po­nent of Ser­bia for hun- dreds of years and that the ter­ri­tory right­fully re­mains a Ser­bian prov­ince.

Bel­grade lost con­trol over Kosovo in 1999 af­ter a bit­ter two-year war with the eth­nic Al­ba­ni­ans who make up the vast ma­jor­ity of Kosovo’s pop­u­la­tion. U.S. and NATO war­planes in­ter­vened on the Koso­vars’ be­half, mount­ing an aerial bomb­ing cam­paign that lasted 78 days. The area was then placed un­der U.N. ad­min­is­tra­tion. NATO peace­keep­ers con­tinue to monitor the cease-fire.

Since then, Kosovo has in­creas­ingly func­tioned as more or less a sep­a­rate coun­try, with Pristina as its cap­i­tal.

But its dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence di­vided in­ter­na­tional opin­ion. The U.S. and most of the Euro­pean Union sup­ported it, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of Spain, which has bat­tled its own sep­a­ratist groups, such as Basque rebels. Rus­sia and China, which are also con­fronted with se­ces­sion­ist move­ments in territories such as Chech­nya and Ti­bet, op­posed Kosovo’s in­de­pen­dence as well.

The world court’s de­ci­sion “could rad­i­cally change the way we treat sep­a­ratist groups in fu­ture,” said James Ker-Lind­say, an an­a­lyst at the London School of Eco­nom­ics. “The flood­gates could be opened for a whole raft of new states to emerge. No one wants to see this hap­pen.”

Visar Kryeziu

Be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice’s de­ci­sion on the le­gal­ity of Kosovo’s se­ces­sion from Ser­bia in 2008, a Serb Ortho­dox priest at a monastery in Gra­canica, Kosovo, led prayers for a fair rul­ing.

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