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World News

Serbia wants international court opinion on Kosovo

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Serbia said on Friday it would seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice on whether Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal and that Belgrade would abide by whatever the court said.

An ethnic Albanian man holds a Kosovo passport in front of the media in Pristina July 30, 2008. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told a U.N. news conference he had asked for a motion to be put before the next annual session of the U.N. General Assembly, opening in mid-September, backing referral by Serbia of the thorny issue to the Hague-based ICJ.

Jeremic said he had put Serbia’s request on Friday to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. A committee of the 192-member General Assembly will decide whether to include the item on the assembly’s agenda.

Kosovo, long a province of Serbia, was placed under U.N. administration in 1999 after NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of mass killings of civilians in a two-year war against separatist guerrillas.

The 90-per-cent ethnic Albanian majority of Kosovo declared independence on February 17. While many Western countries recognized it, Serbia and its big-power ally Russia declared the move illegal.

Worldwide, more than 40 states have recognized Kosovo, but the majority have so far held back amid what Jeremic said was confusion over whether Kosovo’s independence accorded with international law. He said an opinion by the ICJ, a U.N. body, could provide “clear guidance” for those countries.

“Our resolution ... does not contain the way Serbia sees the unilateral declaration of independence,” he said.

“We don’t want to put countries of the world in a situation to vote for our point of view or for anybody else’s point of view. We ask the support for this thing to be referred to the International Court of Justice.”

Jeremic said that while the opinion sought from the ICJ would be advisory and not binding, “I can say that Serbia is going to accept any opinion that comes from the ICJ.”

WAY FORWARD

The Serbian minister portrayed the idea as the way out of the Kosovo impasse. “I think this is the way forward that has to be supported by opponents and supporters of Kosovo’s independence alike,” he added. “I think we should all come together in supporting international law.”

Serbia, where a new, pro-Western government took office last month, is keen to join the European Union, which wants Belgrade to show flexibility on Kosovo and to hand over remaining war crimes suspects from the 1990s Balkan wars.

Jeremic sounded a hopeful note over controversial U.N. plans to hand over police authority in Kosovo to the European Union, which have been opposed by Serbia and Russia and have split the Security Council.

He said Serbia was discussing the matter with U.N. Kosovo envoy Lamberto Zannier and hoped the issue could be resolved in the autumn.

Turning to war crimes suspects, Jeremic said he was optimistic that “sooner rather than later” Belgrade would be able to announce that the two still at large -- former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic -- had been arrested. He gave no details.

Last month, Serbia arrested Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and sent him to the Hague war crimes court.

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