- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called on all countries to recognize his nation Thursday after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled the breakaway province’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.

”No country in the world has reason to delay the decision to recognize the independence of Kosovo,” Mr. Thaci told The Washington Times following the court’s announcement in The Hague. 

He appealed “in particular [to] our European friends in Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus,” referring to the only five states in the 27-member European Union who have yet to recognize Kosovo.

Globally, the Republic of Kosovo had been recognized by 69 U.N. member states — including the United States — before the ICJ opinion.

“The court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence,” said the court’s president, Judge Hisashi Owada, reading the 10-4 opinion aloud in The Hague.

“Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence of the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law.”

The court’s clear-cut statement defied widespread predictions of a more ambiguous opinion and sent Serbia into damage-control mode.

Serbia will not recognize the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo under any circumstances,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremeic said in The Hague shortly after the ICJ announcement.

“There are hard days ahead of us. It is of utmost importance that we manage to keep the peace and to stabilize the entire territory of the [breakaway] province. It is essential that our citizens do not give in to provocations.”

The U.N. General Assembly, at Serbia’s behest, had referred the matter to the ICJ in October 2008. The court’s “advisory opinion,” while officially nonbinding, is expected to have far-reaching ramifications on Kosovo’s status within community of nations, including its bid to join international institutions.

Mr. Thaci said “the next step” for Kosovo is to attain membership in NATO, the EU, and the U.N.

He appealed to the leaders of Serbia, who themselves have been seeking EU membership, to consider the consequences of failing to recognize Kosovo.

“We are ready to recognize Serbia, and I hope in the near future Serbia will change its position and recognize the independence of Kosovo, too,” he said, “because the only way for Serbia to be part of the EU is to recognize the independence of Kosovo.”

Mr. Jeremic and other Serbian officials, however, have shown no signs of backing down. They have pledged to challenge the ruling through strictly peaceful means, but worries of ethnic bloodshed on the ground percolated given the violent history of the Balkans.

NATO’s 10,000-man KFOR mission increased its troop strength Thursday in the Serb-controlled part of Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city in Northern Kosovo. Earlier this month, Mitrovica was the site of a deadly bomb blast at a Serb rally and the shooting of a Serb member of Kosovo’s parliament.

“KFOR will continue to implement its mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment in an impartial manner throughout Kosovo, for the benefit of all communities, majority and minority alike,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

Mr. Thaci sought to assure anxious Serbs in Kosovo that they have nothing to fear. “I want to assure all communites living in Kosovo — and in particular the Serb citizens — that Kosovo is their home too.”



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