The International Court of Justice in The Hague has declared that Kosovo's independence is in line with international law. The ruling is a blow to Serbia but has been welcomed by Germany and the US.
ICJ President Owada (center) reads out the verdict
Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it unilaterally declared in February 2008, complies with international law, according to Thursday's ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Reading out the verdict, ICJ President Hisashi Owada said international law contains no "prohibition on declarations of independence."
Although non-binding, the ruling was keenly watched by Serbia and the international community. Serbia had requested the ICJ to rule on Kosovo's declaration, which it believes is unlawful and will pave the way for instability and further secessionist movements, a view shared by its ally Russia, but rejected by many countries, including the US and Germany.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, currently on a trip to Uganda, welcomed the court ruling. "The verdict confirms our legal view that the declaration of independence of the Republic of Kosovo was lawful," according to a statement from Germany's Foreign Ministry.
"The future of Serbia and Kosovo is in the EU," the statement adds.
The European Union is prepared to "facilitate a process of dialog" between Serbia and Kosovo, according to the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ashton says the EU would help broker talks between Belgrade and Pristina
"This dialogue would be to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to Europe and improve the lives of the people," Ashton said in a statement.
The US also praised the court ruling and asked European states to "unite" behind it. Earlier on Wednesday, US Vice President Joe Biden met Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in Washington and "reaffirmed the United States' full support for an independent, democratic, whole and multi-ethnic Kosovo whose future lies firmly within European and Euro-Atlantic institutions."
The ruling is likely to encourage more countries to officially recognize Kosovo as an independent state. So far, 69 countries recognize its status.
A blow to Serbia
Serbia has been adamant that Kosovo is part of Serbia and shall remain so. It regards Kosovo, which is largely made up of ethnic Albanians and a small Serb minority, as one of its provinces. Serbia still hopes to revive talks on Kosovo's status, which broke down in 2008, with neither Serbia nor Kosovo willing to compromise.
Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic told reporters outside the court that his country would "never, under any circumstances" recognize Kosovo as independent.
"Difficult times are ahead of us... It is of crucial importance to keep the peace and stabilize the entire territory of the province [Kosovo]" he said.
The 1998-99 war between separatist Kosovo Albanians and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's security forces ended when a NATO air campaign ousted the Serbs and established a UN protectorate. The conflict claimed several thousand mostly ethnic Albanian lives.
Serbia's intransigence on Kosovo has angered many in the European Union and has halted progress on Serbia's accession to the bloc.
Author: Nicole Goebel/Reuters/AFP/dpa
Editor: Susan Houlton