Kosovo independence a threat to world order, Serbs tell ICJ

Serbia has said Kosovo's declaration of independence was "a major challenge to international order" as the International Court of Justice in The Hague began hearings into Pristina's decision to break away from Serbia.


AFP - Serbian legal experts accused Kosovo Tuesday of defying international order by declaring independence, as a top UN court began hearings into Pristina's decision to break away from Serbia in 2008.

At the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the experts argued that the ethnic Albanian majority's move would set a dangerous precedent, and claimed that status negotiations with Pristina had not run their course.

The head of the Serbian delegation, Dusan Batakovic, said the unilateral declaration of independence "is 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, at the start of a three-hour session for Serbia to make its case. Representatives from Kosovo were to address the court later Tuesday.

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, told the court.

The hearings in the Netherlands will run until December 11 and include testimony from 29 nations. The court will not hand down any verdict, but give an "advisory opinion" on the move, which could come in a few months.

They are to address the question of the "accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of self-government of Kosovo."

Going to the heart of Belgrade's motives, 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 that long and apparently unreconcilable process led the United States and most of the European Union to commit to backing 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 launched a massive 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 United Nations General Assembly for Kosovo's actions to be heard here.

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 also expressed concern about influence on their own separatist minded regions.

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

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