Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 16:43 UK

UN seeks World Court Kosovo view

Kosovo independence celebration (file pic)
Ethnic Albanians celebrated Kosovo independence in February

The UN General Assembly has voted to refer Kosovo's independence declaration to the International Court of Justice.

The ICJ will be asked to give an advisory, non-binding opinion on the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February.

Seventy-seven countries voted in favour, six against and 74 abstained.

Serbia and Russia say Kosovo acted illegally. Nearly 50 countries - including the US and most of the EU - have recognised it as independent.

However, more than 140 countries have not.

Serbia argued that asking the ICJ to give its opinion would actually reduce tensions and promote reconciliation.

Many countries who voted in favour said this was not a political decision but a legal one, and every state had a right to ask the court for an opinion.

But the large number of abstentions shows that other countries saw this as highly political, the BBC's Laura Trevelyan reports from New York.

For the 48 countries which have recognised Kosovo but support the court this was a tricky vote, she says. The US voted against, calling this an unnecessary and unhelpful move.

Most EU countries abstained - Britain called Serbia's request primarily political.

But the EU was split, with Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Greece and Cyprus voting in favour. They all said international law should be respected.

It could take up to two years for the court to issue its opinion.

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