Bosnia's Serbs may seek to take lead from Kosovo
Allies of Kosovo hailed the ruling but insisted it did not set a legal precedent that would embolden separatist groups worldwide, while Serbia vowed to never accept the independence of its former southern province, which formally proclaimed sovereignty in 2008 after nine years under UN control.SUPPORTERS AND opponents of Kosovo’s independence have dug in their heels after the International Court of Justice ruled that its status was legal, while the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs suggested the verdict could encourage a bid for sovereignty by his region.
As Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority celebrated, and Serbia seethed, the most alarming response came from Bosnian Serb prime minister Milorad Dodik, who said the decision could encourage his region to break away from Bosnia.
“An additional fight for a status that does not breach international law, in line with the [World Court’s] opinion, is not excluded,” Mr Dodik said, after condemning a verdict that he claimed sent “a new message to the Serbs that the politics of violence is successful”.
“It would be interesting to see the reaction of the international community if we declared independence.”
Mr Dodik has previously threatened to seek independence for Republika Srpska, in protest at western-backed efforts to strengthen Bosnia’s federal government in Sarajevo and break down divisions between its Serb and Muslim-Croat areas.
The United States and EU countries such as France, Germany and Britain were quick to welcome the ruling. “We call on all states to move beyond the issue of Kosovo’s status and engage constructively in support of peace and stability in the Balkans, and we call on those states that have not yet done so to recognise Kosovo,” said US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels was “ready to facilitate a process of dialogue” between Serbia and Kosovo to help them move towards EU membership.
The five EU states that have not recognised Kosovo’s independence – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus – suggested that the World Court ruling would have no effect on their position, as did Russia and China. Those countries fear separatism on their own territory, as do many other nations that looked askance at the court’s non-binding, advisory verdict.
“It has a special historical background . . . It is not a decision for other countries or other regions in the world,” German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle insisted during a visit to the divided island of Cyprus.
A brutal 1998-9 crackdown by Serb forces on Kosovo’s separatist rebels – which killed some 10,000 civilians – was ended by a Nato bombing campaign and subsequent UN administration.
Willem van Genugten, legal analyst at the Netherlands’ University of Tilburg, said that for separatist groups “the opinion is something that seems useful at first sight. But legally speaking it does not help them at all. The advisory opinion is restricted to Kosovo in more or less every paragraph, and the court avoids whatever implication for other minority groups.”