Serbia assails Kosovo independence at UN court

2nd December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Serbian experts argued at the International Court of Justice that the move by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority would set a dangerous precedent.

The Hague -- Serbia accused Kosovo Tuesday of threatening international order by declaring independence, as a top UN court began hearings into the breakaway territory that has divided international opinion.

Serbian experts argued at the International Court of Justice that the move by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority would set a dangerous precedent, and claimed that negotiations had not run their course.

The head of the Serbian delegation, Dusan Batakovic, said the unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008 was "but an attempt to put an end to the international regime put in place for Kosovo by the UN Security Council."

"It is a major challenge to international order," he said putting Serbia's case before representatives from Kosovo addressed the court.

Kosovo was put under UN supervision following a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 against former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic to stop his crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

"It would constitute a most dangerous precedent ... if states were allowed to learn that the setting up of such a UN administration constitutes nothing but the first step in the process of secession," Andreas Zimmermann, international law professor at the University of Potsdam in Germany, told the court.

The hearings in The Hague will run until December 11 and include testimony from 29 nations. The court will give a non-binding advisory opinion on the move which could come in a few months.

Judges said they will address the "accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of self-government of Kosovo."

Batakovic said that talks on Kosovo's status -- which were deadlocked for months, deeply frustrating international backers -- remain the best way forward.

"Serbia rejects the claim that all alternatives for negotiation have been exhausted," he said.

"We are confident that once the court will have shed its juridical light on the question, the conditions will be created to reach a compromise on the future status of Kosovo."

Frustration over the negotiations led the United States and most of the European Union to back an independent Kosovo, which is home to some two million people, 90 percent of them of Albanian origin.

Batakovic also insisted that the southern territory remained central to his country's history and cultural identity.

"Kosovo is the cradle of Serbia's history and an integral part of its identity," he told the court.

More than 60 nations have recognised Kosovo's statehood, including 22 of the 27 members of the European Union, which sent a major justice and police mission to help chaperone the poverty-stricken region to independence.

Russia warned that endorsing independence would set a dangerous precedent for separatists around the world, and its echoes resonated in Moscow's backing for two rebel regions in Georgia last August.

Serbia, which has strong backing from its ally Russia, won agreement on October 8, 2008 from the UN General Assembly for the court to look at Kosovo's actions.

Of the countries taking part in the hearings, 15 have recognised Kosovo's sovereignty, including the United States and France.

Among the 14 who have not, Spain and China have expressed concern about influence on their own regions where there are separatist activists.

The ICJ was set up to rule on disputes between sovereign states, but can also be asked by the UN to give an advisory opinion on legal questions.

It has issued 25 advisory opinions since it started work in April 1946, but such opinions are not binding.

Lorne Cook/AFP/Expatica

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