The International Court of Justice has said that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate international law, in a case that could have significant implications for separatist movements around the world.
Hisashi Owada, the presiding judge of the UN's highest court in the Hague, the Netherlands, read out the statement, which is not legally binding, on Thursday afternoon.
The decision, which comes two years after the UN General Assemblyrequested the opinion, is likely to lead to more countries recognising Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo's foreign minister said he expected Serbia to deal with the former province as a sovereign state, following the ruling.
"I expect Serbia to turn and come to us, to talk with us on so many issues of mutual interest, of mutual importance," Skender Hyseni told the Reuters news agency.
"But such talks can only take place as talks between sovereign states," he said.
Serbia: nothing changed
Serbia's President Boris Tadic was quick to respond, saying that the court ruling will not change the position of Serbia regarding Kosovo.
His comments were echoed by Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic. "Serbia will never, under any circumstances, recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of the so-called Republic of Kosovo," Jeremic told reporters outside the International Court of Justice.
Jeremic also appealed for calm, particular among the minority ethnic Serb community who are concentrated in the north of Kosovo, in the wake of the verdict.
"Difficult days are ahead of us ... It is of crucial importance to keep the peace and to stabilise the entire territory of the province (Kosovo)," he added. "It is crucial that our citizens do not react to provocations."
Tadic had warned earlier that a ruling in favour of statehood would set a dangerous precedent.
"If the International Court of Justice sets a new principle, it would trigger a process that would create several new countries and destabilise numerous regions in the world," he said before the ruling.
'Options run low for Serbia'
Aljosa Milenkovic, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Belgrade, said "options are running low for Serbia and Serbian leadership".
He added that riot police had been deployed in the city in the case of protests over the decision.
Nearly 70 countries have already recognised Kosovo as an independent state, including the United States and 22 of the 27 European Union members.
|The World Court's ruling could have implications for other separatist movements [Reuters]
Serbian officials had previously said that they want to continue negotiations on the status of Kosovo after the ICJ verdict.
Earlier on Wednesday Jeremic called for a "compromise solution on the future status of Kosovo".
But Kosovar officials have ruled out any further status negotiations with Belgrade.
Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pristina, Kosovo, said regardless of Thursday's ruling the positions of Kosovo and Serbia would remain "entrenched".
"Serbia basically says it will never recognise Kosovo as a sovereign country and the government here in Pristina is saying to Belgrade: 'Get real, you're not coming back, independence is a fact on the ground and the people here are living here everyday'."
Serbia considers Kosovo to be its southern-most province and the cradle of the Serb nation, but its population is predominantly ethnic Albanian.
A two-year war between Serbia and ethnic Kosovo Albanians in 1998-99 ended with a 78-day Nato bombing campaign and saw Serbia lose control of the territory.
A UN administration and a Nato-monitored ceasefire was installed following the war.
In February 2008, the province declared independence, after UN-brokered
negotiations to resolve its future status failed.
The UN General Assembly, at Serbia's request, asked the ICJ in Otober 2008 to render a legal opinion.
Just under two million ethnic Albanians and 120,000 Serbs have live separately in Kosovo, mutually suspicious and occasionally hostile to each other.
Belgrade has refused to recognise Kosovo's independence move and the dispute has held up its EU membership talks.