Serbia: Ultranationalist war crimes supect's trial suspended

The Hague, 11 Feb. (AKI) – The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia's judges on Wednesday suspended indefinitely the trial of Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, after prosecutors said witness intimidation was undermining the case.

Seselj's defence described the move was “a legal scandal”.

The court has charged Seselj, leader of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, with crimes against Muslims and Croats during the 1990s Balkan wars that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors hold him responsible for crimes allegedly committed by paramilitary forces recruited by his party.

Seselj voluntarily surrendered to the tribunal on 24 February 2003, and the prosecution had only seven hours left to present evidence against him. From the evidence presented so far, it appeared that he was guilty only of verbal abuse and inflammatory speeches.

But the three-judge panel accepted prosecution demands that the trial be interrupted, because “the integrity of the process has been disrupted”.

Presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, voted against the proposal, but was outvoted by his colleagues Frederick Harhoff and Flavia Latanzzi.

The prosecution demanded the suspension of the trial in January, saying that Seselj’s aides had threatened a protected witness, but Antonetti and Seselj contested the proposal.

In the meantime, Seselj has been charged by the tribunal for revealing the identity of a protected witness, which could carry a fine of 100,000 euros and seven years in jail, or both.

Antonetti said he voted against prosecutors’ demands, saying it was “unfair to interrupt the trial of someone who has spent almost six years in detention”. He said he would explain his decision in detail later.

Seselj’s legal aide, Zoran Krasic, told Serbian media the tribunal’s decision was “a legal scandal”.

Seselj himself said the suspension was aimed at preventing the trial’s end by “the only legal and natural way – by acquittal”.

He claimed the court had presented numerous false witnesses to avoid having to acquit him and said it should pay him damages for "all the suffering and six years spent in detention."

Seselj's trial began in 2006 but was almost immediately suspended after he went on hunger strike. The case eventually got underway in November, 2007, after the court allowed him to defend himself.


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