The International Court of Justice has ruled that it does have jurisdiction over a case Croatia would like to bring against Serbia for mass-murder. But it remains to be seen whether the case will ever come to trial.
The decision announced by the UN highest court in the Hague on Tuesday, Sept. 18, was a narrow one.
"The court ... by 10 votes to seven finds that ... the court has the jurisdiction to entertain the application by the Republic of Croatia," said presiding judge Rosalyn Higgins.
Croatian Minister of Justice Ivan Simonovic said he was very happy about the judgement.
"We won in round one," Simonovic told a Croatian daily newspaper. "Now we have round two and that is to prove genocide in Croatia,"
Croatia lodged its complaint against Serbia in 1999. Zagreb said that Serbian participation in the Croatian War of 1991-1995 amounted to "a form of genocide which resulted in large numbers of Croatian citizens being displaced, killed, tortured, or illegally detained as well as extensive property destruction."
Croatia has estimated that some 20,000 people lost their lives in the conflict.
Belgrade had argued that the ICJ did not have jurisdiction over the complaint.
Zagreb's accusations stem from the period immediately after the end of the Cold War, which saw the disintegration of the Serb-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Ethnic Serbs, who made up 12 percent of the population in Croatia, staged an armed insurrection.
With Belgrade's backing, Serbs briefly controlled around 30 percent of what is today Croatia, declaring the region known as Krajina an independent state. The ethnic Serbian forces were later defeated by the Croatian national army with the help of Western nations, chiefly the US.
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during the course of the fighting before it finally ended for good in 1995. Croatia is seeking punishment against Serbians it considers responsible for the violence as well as monetary reparations and the return of Croatian cultural treasures.
But it could take years for an actual case against Serbia to come to trial, and even if proceedings are initiated, Zagreb is unlikely to get everything it wants.
Last year, in a similar case, the ICJ controversially cleared Belgrade of any direct responsibility for the genocide of thousands of men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
In another event related to the Balkans' troubled history, the prosecutor of the UN's International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, David Brammertz, held talks with Serbian President Boris Tadic and other officials.
The focus was on whether Belgrade was doing enough to hunt down Serbs suspected of crimes against humanity, most notably former Bosnian-Serbian general Ratko Mladic, who is wanted on charges of genocide.
Brammertz declined to give a public statement, but the Serbian government said the talks had gone well.
"Brammertz underlined the very good cooperation in the past few months with Serbia's institutions," the cabinet of the Serbian Prime Minister said in a statement.
Serbian cooperation with international efforts to bring war criminals to justice is seen as key to Belgrade's bid to join the EU.
Serbia hopes to begin the process of accession next year, but some member states like the Netherlands want to see Belgrade apprehend suspects like Mladic before starting any official procedures.
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