The Hague: Kosovo won a major victory on the world stage Thursday as the United Nations` highest court said its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia was legal.
The nonbinding opinion, passed in a 10-4 vote by court judges, sets the stage for Kosovo to renew its appeals for further international recognition. The tiny Balkan country has been recognized by 69 countries, including the United States and most European Union nations. It needs 100 for full statehood.
The International Court of Justice`s opinion, read by court president Hisashi Owada, says international law contains no "prohibition on declarations of independence" and therefore Kosovo`s declaration "did not violate general international law."
"This is a great day for Kosovo, and my message to the government of Serbia is `Come and talk to us,`" Kosovo`s foreign minister, Skender Hyseni, said after leaving the court.
Serbian officials had not yet left the building.
Kosovo sparked sharp debate worldwide when it seceded from Serbia in 2008, following a bloody 1998-99 war with Serbia and nearly a decade of international administration.
Serbia and Russia have led opposing countries in condemning Kosovo`s statehood, with Serbs arguing it has been the cradle of their civilization and national identity since 1389, when a Christian army led by Serbian Prince Lazar lost an epic battle to invading Ottoman forces.
Serbia`s ultranationalist Radical Party said the court "gravely violated" international law, and called on the government to demand an urgent session of the UN Security Council to end the EU peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
NATO-led troops increased their presence in the Serb-controlled part of Mitrovica, a divided town in northern Kosovo.