Highest UN court to give verdict on 'independent' Kosovo
The UN's highest court will give a verdict Thursday on the legality of Kosovo's 2008 unilateral secession from Serbia, which strongly opposes the post-war attempt at separation.
While both sides have predicted legal victory, analysts believe the International Court of Justice's opinion, purely advisory and non-binding, would treat the issue with some ambiguity.
"We expect a positive opinion of the ICJ," Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic told AFP in a statement that referred to the majority ethnic Albanian territory as "our southern province".
The 1998-99 war between separatist Kosovo Albanians and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's forces ended when a NATO air campaign ousted the Serbs and established a UN protectorate.
Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 after UN-brokered negotiations failed.
"The future of the entire region cannot be built on a violation of international law," Cvetkovic said ahead of Thursay's ruling.
Pristina, however, believes the court will endorse its move to statehood.
"The government of Kosovo believes that this decision will be in harmony with interests of the people of Kosovo, their will and the decision of the institutions to declare Kosovo a state and live as an independent country," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told parliament last week.
International law analysts say the 15 judges of the court will tread carefully.
"The court will try to avoid creating precedents, because then several other minorities will follow," University of Tilburg international law professor Willem van Genugten told AFP.
Jean D'Aspremont, international law expert at the University of Amsterdam, agreed the court would "never, never recognise a right to secede. That would be opening Pandora's Box."
Nor was it likely, however, to declare the secession illegal.
"The court does not want to make a fool of itself and make a grand judgment that would be completely disregarded by all actors."
So far, 69 countries have recognised Kosovo as independent, including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU countries.
The United Nations General Assembly, at Serbia's request, asked the ICJ in October 2008 to render a legal opinion. This saw Serbia, Kosovo and 29 other states including the US and Serbia's ally Russia take part in public hearings in The Hague last December.
Only the UN can ask the ICJ for an advisory opinion on legal questions, which it has done 25 times since the court was founded in 1946.
Serbia, meanwhile, was hoping for a post-ICJ debate in the UN that "will open the way for new talks on Kosovo", said Cvetkovic.
"... only dialogue can help overcome the current difficult situation in Kosovo," he said.
Pristina fiercely rejects the idea of new talks on its status. Instead, after the court's opinion has been rendered, Kosovo would "enter into a new phase of consolidation and strengthening of our state", said Thaci.
Europe, meanwhile, would support a UN General Assembly resolution on the "resumption of dialogue to find an agreement on all the unresolved issues, bearing in mind the perspective of common EU integration," of Serbia and Kosovo, a diplomatic source told AFP.
© 2010 AFP