Global Policy Forum

War Crimes Trial of Serb Ultranationalist to Start

November 6, 2007

The leader of Serbia's ultranationalist Radical Party faces charges including murder, torture and persecution of non-Serbs when his trial opens at the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Wednesday. Vojislav Seselj gave himself up to the court in 2003 and pleaded not guilty. He remains leader of the Radicals, Serbia's strongest single party for almost a decade. The trial is due to start at 3 a.m. EDT. It had been set to begin late last year but Seselj went on hunger strike for 28 days after being prevented from defending himself. He eventually won back the right to self-defense.

Prosecutors accuse Seselj of making inflammatory speeches calling for the creation of a "Greater Serbia" and inciting hatred of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb people during the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. They say he recruited Serbian volunteers and indoctrinated them with his "extreme ethnic rhetoric" and was involved in plans to forcibly remove the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia with "particular violence and brutality."

Hundreds of non-Serbs were detained, beaten, tortured and killed by Serb forces Seselj recruited or influenced, prosecutors say. He is charged with murder, torture, persecution, cruel treatment, deportation, inhumane acts, wanton destruction and plunder. In Serbia's capital Belgrade, Seselj's party put up posters of their leader reading "The trial begins -- end Hague tyranny."

The party has arranged for the trial to be shown live by a small, private television station after state television turned down their request to broadcast proceedings. Party secretary Aleksandar Vucic said the Radicals did not expect a fair trial but were sure Seselj would prove Serbia was not guilty of war crimes.

Seselj, 53, has routinely disrupted pre-trial proceedings by insulting judges and refusing to cooperate with defense lawyers imposed on him by the court whom he called "spies." He was close to the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died in detention in The Hague in March 2006 a few months before a verdict was due in his war crimes trial.

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