World Court Rules on Kosovo’s Independence

Eleven years ago, the United States and its NATO allies were bombing the Balkan nation of Serbia in a campaign to protect ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. On Thursday, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence two years ago was legally valid.

The decision was welcomed by the United States, which is among the 69 nations that recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

The court’s non-binding opinion was carefully worded and did not assert that the state of Kosovo was legal under international law. By avoiding that ruling, the court sidestepped the argument over whether an independent Kosovo is a legal precedent for other potential breakaway regions or political subdivisions, especially in the Caucuses or Central Asia or even Spain or China, that might want to separate from their mother countries.

“This is a great day for Kosovo,” the New York Times quoted Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Skender Hyensi as saying. The minister urged the Serbs to begin negotiations.

Not surprisingly, the news was taken badly by Serbia, which has claimed Kosovo as sacred territory since an epic battle was fought there in 1389.

“We will never recognize the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence,” the Associated Press quoted Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic telling reporters outside the International Court building in The Hague.

The European Union once again dangled the bait of EU membership as a lure to draw both Serbia and Kosovo into settling their differences. The 27-nation group, which is slowly taking in new members from the former Yugoslavia, has insisted that countries have peaceful relations with their neighbors as one condition of membership.

Catherine Ashton, the foreign minister for the EU, issued a statement saying the group would work to facilitate a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.

The 90-day NATO air war over Kosovo ended with Serbia withdrawing its forces.

The territory of 2 million people became an international protectorate guarded by NATO troops. Some 10,000 NATO soldiers, including more than 1,000 Americans are still there.

Kosovo, now 90 percent ethnic Albanian, declared unilateral independence in February 2008, and it was that decision the International Court refused Thursday to disturb. But still, fewer than half of the total U.N. membership has recognized Kosovo’s independence, which is slowing the country’s admission to international organizations.