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International court to rule on Kosovo independence

The International Court of Justice will on Thursday give its verdict on the legality of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and hopes the court will rule in its favor.

Kosovo flag

Kosovo says its independence is irreversible

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is to rule on whether Kosovo's independence, which it unilaterally declared in February 2008, is lawful.

Serbia, which does not recognize Kosovo as a state and regards it as a Serbian province, had pushed for the ICJ to get involved and in October 2008 the United Nations agreed to ask the court for an advisory opinion.

Although non-binding, Serbia hopes the ruling will resurrect internationally- mediated talks on the status of Kosovo. Years of talks on the status of Kosovo - based on UN resolution 1244 from 1999 - ended without an agreement.

"We do expect that the court is not going to endorse the legality of the unilateral act of secession because if they do so, then no border anywhere in the world, anywhere where a secessionist ambition is harbored, will ever be safe," Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic told Deutsche Welle.

street scene in Pristina, Kosovo

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, with Pristina as the capital

Kosovo, meanwhile, is confident that the court will rule that independence complies with international law, making further talks about its status unnecessary.

"We will enter a new phase after this ruling, a phase of consolidation of our state," said Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

"In that next phase, we will push for the integration of Kosovo into NATO, the EU and the UN," he added.

International pressure

Kosovo, which was put under UN administration in 1999, after the Kosovo War, is currently recognized by 69 countries, including Germany, France, Britain and the US, while Russia, Spain and Cyprus among others, side with Serbia. Those in favor of independence have strongly discouraged Serbia from seeking fresh talks on Kosovo's status.

Human rights activists are also urging Serbia to accept an independent Kosovo.

"Serbia needs to acknowledge reality in the region, which means also Kosovo's independence and really to proceed with constructive regional policy," Sonja Biserko, President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia told Deutsche Welle.

"I think this is something that would really change perception of Serbia in the west. If Serbia doesn't use this chance, I'm afraid we'll end up in some kind of self-isolation and postpone its progress in the EU," she added.

Head of the Serbian delegation and Serbia's ambassador to France, Dusan Batakovic, Vuk Jeremic, Serbian foreign minister, and Cedomir Radojkovic, Serbia's ambassador to the Netherlands,attend the opening of hearings at the International Court of Justice

Serbia told the court it would never accept Kosovo's independence.

Ethnic tensions

Kosovo is home mainly to ethnic Albanians, with a small Serb minority. After the Kosovo War, in which Belgrade forcefully suppressed an ethnic Albanian insurgency, ethnic Serbs fled Kosovo and many still live in refugee camps in Serbia. Like the Serbian government, they are fiercely opposed to an independent Kosovo.

"It's very hard to think about it. Still now I can't believe that I'm not living in my own country anymore," Snezana Darmanovic, who lives in one of the camps in Pancevo just outside Belgrade, told Deutsche Welle.

"I feel like I'm a guest here. I still see Kosovo as a part of Serbia. Our roots and our hearts are there," she says.

Authors: Nicole Goebel, Mark Lowen
Editor: Susan Houlton

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