Serbian Seselj acquitted in UN war crimes trial

The UN Criminal Tribunal has acquitted Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj of war crimes after a decade-long trial.

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Seselj, who was allowed to return to Belgrade in 2014 due to ill health, declined to watch the court proceedings via video link.

Prosecutors had accused Seselj, 61, of stoking murderous ethnic tension with his fiery rhetoric at the outset of the 1990s wars that followed the collapse of federal Yugoslavia into seven successor states, a process that cost 130,000 lives.

“With this acquittal on all the nine counts of the indictment the arrest warrant issued by the appeals chamber is rendered moot,” presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said.

“Vojislav Seselj is now a free man.”

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Seselj had also faced three counts of crimes against humanity and six of war crimes for inciting ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina.

Prosecutors said in addition to his rhetoric about creating an ethnically pure “Greater Serbia”, he helped set up paramilitary units to carry out the plan.

Serb paramilitaries drove tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats from their homes.

He has consistently denied all charges.

The court, which met in The Hague, found he bore no individual responsibility for the crimes.

A close ally of late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and a prolific author, Seselj is known for passionate speeches, a short temper and crude threats such as telling Serb enemies that he would “gouge out their eyes with rusty spoons”.

If convicted, he could have faced life imprisonment.

In an interview with Newsweek’s Serbian edition, Seselj said he expected to be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“If the government extradites me, then I will serve my time. I am not going back to The Hague voluntarily,” he said.