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Kosovo independence legal, says UN court. What will Russia do?

Kosovo's independence declaration in 2008 is legit, says the International Court of Justice (ICJ). But the ruling may create a precedent for separatist movements worldwide. Russia opposed Kosovo's independence.

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After the ruling, European Union foreign affairs chief Lady Catherine Ashton said the future of both Kosovo and Serbia lay in Europe, which is interpreted as a political salve to a legal opinion that did not favor Belgrade.

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Serbia disappointed

Ljubica Gojgic, senior political analyst for Belgrade’s B92 news service, found the ruling “very disappointing."

"I’m amazed....that the court based its ruling on the ‘representatives' of the Kosovo people. This deteriorates the credibility and independence of the court....T hey obviously didn’t have the strength to resist the pressure they were under,” he says.

In Kosovo’s capital Pristina, the ruling was received with some delight. Agron Bajrami, chief editor of the daily Koha Ditore, says, “This was unexpected. We were expecting something very ambiguous, but the wording is clear. It’s a good development that will open a new phase for recognition and positive movement.”

Whether by coincidence or not, a former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, exonerated by the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague, was apprehended Wednesday and will be re-tried by the UN court on six counts of murder and torture. The tribunal says witnesses in Mr. Haradinaj’s original case were threatened. The arrest will change the political landscape in Kosovo, as Haradinaj has been gaining ground as the principal opponent of Mr. Thaci.

Kosovo is devoutly remembered by Serbs as the scene of an epic struggle between Serb Prince Lazar and the Ottomans in 1389, in which the Serb side lost heroically; many of Serbia’s most treasured churches are located in Kosovo. The state is bordered by Macedonia, Serbia, and Albania, and for much of history was so sequestered that a Bulgarian geographer called it “almost as unknown and inaccessible as a stretch of land as Central Africa.” While its Albanian roots are disputed by Belgrade, British scholar Noel Malcolm describes the Albanian presence there as one of the oldest in Europe.

After the UN court decision, Russia’s response will be watched closely. While Moscow had originally decried Western arguments for Kosovo independence, it appeared to jettison those arguments after backing the right of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to declared independence in the weeks after the 2008 war in Georgia.

Kosovo has largely been peaceful since 2008, with few outright clashes between Serbs and Albanians. Most Serbs live or have moved to the town of Mitrovica in the north, an area contiguous with Serbia. The legal and political disposition of Mitrovica remains unresolved.

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