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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 106
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)


Update No: 151 - (16/12/09)

Ten years on
The world was transfixed by events in the Balkans just over a decade ago. At the time in 1999, the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic was attempting to suppress an ethnic Albanian insurgency in its southern province of Kosovo. The Serbs hold a special regard for that particular province. It was there that the Battle of Blackbirds took place in 1389, when they were overwhelmed by the Ottoman Turks, who were to rule over them until 1878, when they were liberated by the Russians.

Nato declared war on Yugoslavia, calling the situation a humanitarian catastrophe. An intensive 78-day aerial bombing campaign followed until Milosevic withdrew his troops; but only when the Russians, their traditional allies requested them to. The territory was placed under United Nations administration.

Nine years later, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority unilaterally declared independence from what is now Serbia, despite failing to obtain a UN Security Council resolution authorising the move.

Russia had threatened to veto it, united in opposition with its Orthodox ally, Serbia. A modest wave of recognitions of Kosovo followed, led by the United States.

Serbia cried foul, calling the secession illegal. Furious Serb protesters set the US embassy in Belgrade alight. As the flames died down, the new government of Boris Tadic vowed to fight on, calling for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to examine the matter.

The counter-arguments
Now, the hearings are beginning in the first ever case of territorial secession brought before the ICJ. Thirty countries will present their various arguments. The issue appears straightforward: did Kosovo's declaration of independence comply with international law?

But the discussions will be complex, with both sides engaging in a tug-of-war over the legal minutiae. Serbia is likely to say that UN Resolution 1244, which ended the Kosovan war, reaffirmed the territorial integrity of the then Yugoslavia, maintaining Belgrade's jurisdiction over its southern province.

It is thought the Kosovan side will argue that the resolution did not expressly prohibit secession and that human rights abuses committed in Kosovo by Milosevic's government gave the province the right to self-determination.

So what?

The verdict, after months of deliberation, will be advisory, not legally binding. So what is the point of it all, one might well ask?

Most people within the international community - many even in Serbia - now believe that turning back the clock and annulling independence is unrealistic.

"This isn't about reintegrating Kosovo within Serbia," says Mr Tadic. "This isn't about the independence of Kosovo. It is about starting from a blank page to talk with good will to find a sustainable, compromise solution."

So Serbia is ready to return to the negotiating table. The problem is that Kosovo believes there's nothing to negotiate about. Pristina says it is independent and that's final.

"The history of the Balkans is all about fragmentation and partition. We've suffered a lot through that," adds Mr Tadic, referring to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the wars that followed.

"That's why we must find a totally different approach."

EU membership
That conciliatory tone is part of the new attitude that the Serbian government is trying to present over Kosovo. "We're no longer part of the problem", says Mr Tadic. "We're part of the solution."

The reason is clear: Serbia is desperate to get on the path to European Union membership. Brussels says it won't require Belgrade to recognise Kosovo - "something we will never do," says the president - but has demanded greater cooperation between the two if membership is to be considered.

And so Mr Tadic faces a difficult balancing act: placating Serbia's right-wing, still angry over Kosovan independence, while showing a "softly-softly" approach for Brussels.

Mixed emotions
On the streets of Belgrade, Kosovo elicits mixed emotions. Many now feel resigned to the status quo.

"It's still the heart and soul of our nation," says one Serb patriot. "But I don't think we can change things. Far more powerful forces are pulling the strings." Says another: "What's happened is tragic, but my priority now is that Serbia joins the EU and that people move on."

Bojan, a sports science student, calls Kosovan independence "a criminal act." "People who did it in Kosovo can do it in Spain, in Russia - anywhere that a part of a country wants to break away", he warns. And that is why the Kosovo issue still matters to the wider world: numerous governments face similar challenges to their authority as that of Serbia.

Countries from Nigeria to Georgia and Cyprus to China, have refused to recognise Kosovan independence for fear of fanning secessionist flames within their borders. And so they - and their separatist movements - will be watching this ICJ case very closely indeed to see whether the decision might affect what happens in their own backyards.

Breakthrough in Brussels
European Union foreign ministers say they will no longer block a trade agreement and closer ties with Serbia.

The decision came after the Netherlands lifted its opposition to closer EU ties, ending an 18-month standoff. The Dutch government had been blocking an interim trade deal, demanding that Serbia do more to track down fugitive Balkans war crimes suspects.

But the breakthrough removes a major obstacle to Serbia applying for full membership of the EU, analysts say.
Serbia's EU-accession hopes have been dogged by its failure to arrest the Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect, General Ratko Mladic. The Netherlands had been blocking an interim trade deal because it wants Gen Mladic handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

But in December the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor said Serbia's co-operation with the ICTY was "progressing".

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