looks like a big day today for breakaway tripointing
- with apologies for the embedded adverts athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120100438.html?wprss=rss_world/wires
Serbia at hearing: Kosovo's independence illegalPHOTOSBy MIKE CORDERThe Associated Press
Tuesday, December 1, 2009; 8:16 AM
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Serbia argued to the World Court on Tuesday that Kosovo's declaration of independence was a blatant violation of international law tore at the very fabric of Serb national identity.
Serbia's ambassador to France, Dusan Batakovic, said the February 2008 independence declaration challenged his country's sovereignty and undermined international law by breaching U.N. Security Council resolutions that set up a U.N.-backed provisional administration in Kosovo.
Batakovic was speaking on the first morning of nine days of hearings on the legality of Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo is expected to argue later Tuesday it was never part of Serbia.
"We heard nothing new," Kosovo Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni told reporters. "What we heard on the part of the Serbian delegation only reconfirms the legitimacy ... of Kosovo to be independent."
The 15 judges are being asked to render their legal opinion on the validity of Pristina's declaration, which has been recognized by 63 countries but not by the Security Council. The opinion has no binding effect, but other countries with potential breakaway regions, like the Basque district of Spain, are closely watching the outcome.
Another of Serbia's lawyers, Malcolm Shaw, said recognition by other nations was irrelevant.
"What is illegal cannot subsequently be rendered legal by the action of third parties," he told the judges.
He warned that if the court's opinion is seen as weakening the principle of a state's right to territorial integrity, it "would be a source of considerable apprehension" for other countries facing secessionist movements.
The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, likely will take months to reach its decision.
Batakovic told the court, the U.N's highest judicial body, that "Kosovo is the historical cradle of Serbia and constitutes one of the essential pillars of its identity."
NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to end a brutal crackdown by the forces of then-President Slobodan Milosevic against separatist Kosovo Albanians. Some 10,000 Albanians were killed and close to a million forced out of their homes. Hundreds of Serbs were also killed in retaliatory attacks by Kosovo separatists.
Batakovic said Serbia "condemns and severely regrets" the violence unleashed by the Milosevic's former administration, but said Serbs are still being targeted today in Kosovo.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Belgrade's decision to go to court marked a "paradigm shift" in the bloody history of the Balkans.
"This is the first time in the history of the Balkans that somebody has decided to resolve an issue of significance using exclusively peaceful means," he told reporters.
The United States and most European Union states are among those that have recognized Kosovo's independence. Serbia, backed by Russia in the U.N. Security Council, and a majority of world's states are against the recognition.
Batakovic said that Kosovo's declaration "is a challenge to the international legal order, based as it is on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity."
After Serbia and Kosovo's presentations Tuesday, 29 other countries including the United States, Russia, France and Britain will each get 45 minutes to present arguments in hearings that will wrap up Dec. 11.
The last advisory opinion the court gave was in 2004 when it ruled that Israel'splanned 425-mile (684-kilometer) security barrier in the West Bank violates international law and urged the United Nations to take action to stop its construction. Israel rejected the opinion.