News 13 Nov 14

Seselj Vows to Resist Return to Hague Tribunal

Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, temporarily freed by the Hague Tribunal for cancer treatment, said he would fight any attempt to send him back for his war crimes verdict.

Gordana Andric, Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Seselj's supporters greet him at Belgrade airport. Photo: Beta.

Serbian Radical Party chief Seselj said on Thursday that he would not voluntarily return to the UN-backed court in The Hague for the verdict in his war crimes trial and would stage protests against any attempt to send him back.

“There will be no voluntary return to The Hague for me,” Seselj told a press conference.

He sarcastically taunted Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who were both members of his Serbian Radical Party until 2008, calling them “my colleagues in war crimes and accomplices in crimes against humanity”.

The Serbian government gave the Hague Tribunal a guarantee that Seselj would return, but the nationalist leader mocked the promise.

“When they issue a warrant to the Serbian government, Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandar Vucic will decide what to do, and I will not be running away,” Seselj said.

Hundreds of cheering nationalists greeted Seselj on Wednesday at Belgrade Airport as he arrived after his temporary release for cancer treatment after more than 11 years in detention.

The Serbian Radical Party chief told his followers that his immediate plan was to focus on how to remove Vucic and Nikolic from power.

Seselj called Vucic and Nikolic “traitors” and said they “sold our honour and gave up Serb nationalism to become servants of the West” with the Progressive Party, which wants the country to join the EU.

But Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic brushed off the idea that Seselj’s return could pose a political challenge to the Progressive Party.

“I refuse to allow anyone to drag us into the political mud or into the past, no matter who it is, Seselj or anyone from the Serbian Radical Party,” Stefanovic said.

Foreign minister Ivica Dacic said meanwhile that Seselj’s ideas of a ‘Greater Serbia’ encompassing parts of Croatia and Bosnia were now history.

“In the 21st century, the idea that Split, Zagreb or Dubrovnik are part of Serbia cannot have serious political support,” Dacic told public broadcaster RTS.

“But I am happy that he has been released,” Dacic added.

Vucic however declined to comment on Seselj’s threats. “I wish him good health and luck,” he told journalists.

But labour minister Aleksandar Vulin, who previously claimed that Seselj was being released to destabilise Vucic’s government, blamed the US for the Hague Tribunal’s decision to let him return to Serbia.

“I really have no reason to be a diplomat and I can freely say – the Hague Tribunal is controlled by the US and the US released him… Through his words, the US is saying now that it will overthrow our government,” Vulin said.

Croatian officials meanwhile expressed regret that the Hague Tribunal had released Seselj before the verdict in his war crimes trial was handed down.

“It is very disappointing that a court in which everyone believed was not capable over all these years of delivering the verdict,” said Croatian President Ivo Josipovic.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that “even Seselj’s words from the 1990s are a serious criminal offence”.

“That man was calling for [ethnic] cleansing and killing and he would be convicted in any state,” Milanovic said.

Seselj has been in custody at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia since 2003, when he is standing trial for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.

The verdict in his war crimes case was scheduled for October last year, but was postponed after one of the judges in the trial was removed for alleged bias.

The new judge is expected to take until at least the end of June 2015 to familiarise himself with details of the case, causing yet another delay in the marathon trial.

His party is also planning a major welcome-home rally on Saturday in Belgrade’s central Republic Square, where it is expected that the nationalist leader will speak.

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