Serb war crimes suspect: trial was political

By Toby Sterling

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 14 2012 11:25 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this March 6, 2009 file photo Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj seen in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. Seselj, 58, is to start making his closing arguments on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Seselj has been charged with crimes against Muslims and Croats, allegedly committed by the volunteers recruited by his party during 1991-1995 war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Valerie Kuypers, Pool, File, Associated Press

AMSTERDAM — In closing remarks at his war crimes trial, Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj questioned the impartiality of U.N. judges and said Wednesday he doesn't care about their verdict. Many of his remarks appeared intended for his supporters in Serbia, who have followed his trial closely.

Seselj, who has vowed to make a mockery of his trial, said the Yugoslav tribunal empowered by the U.N. Security Council is actually a creation of Western intelligence agencies and it doesn't have jurisdiction in his case. He added that unknown people were trying to kill him "with electricity" in his detention cell.

"Whatever sentence you give me will likely be a life sentence for me, so why should I care about your sentence?" the ultra-nationalist told judges. History will "laugh at your judgment."

Seselj was one of Serbia's most prominent wartime politicians and is accused of plotting with former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic, Gen. Ratko Mladic and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to drive non-Serbs out of parts of Croatia and Bosnia to create a "greater Serbia."

Prosecutors have demanded a 28-year sentence against Seselj for allegedly recruiting paramilitary groups and inciting them to commit atrocities during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

At the start of remarks scheduled to last three days, Seselj launched into a retelling of the events of the Balkan wars from a Serbian nationalist perspective.

He said that Serbs had been subjected to a "genocide" during the war. The word may be purposefully chosen, since the court has held that while atrocities were committed by all sides, genocide was only committed by Bosnian Serbs against Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

Seselj said Serb military action was justified to defend ethnic Serbs in Croatia.

"How could we Serbs be expected to stand by and watch if somebody was killing us?" he said. "We could not stand by, we had to protect them."

At times, his defense sounded more like a confession.

He conceded that Serb troops had also seized areas where Serbs were a minority and that Muslims suffered disproportionately from fighting in Bosnia, but offered no apology.

"That's how things happen in a war," he said. "You take as much territory as you can and then you negotiate afterward."

In his concluding remarks last week, prosecution lawyer Mathias Marcussen said Seselj's firebrand speeches at rallies "planted the seeds of ethnic hatred and helped them grow into ethnic violence against non-Serbs."

Marcussen said Seselj was responsible "for the suffering of tens of thousands of victims who were expelled from their homes, murdered, detained, tortured, raped and whose villages, towns and religious sites were wantonly destroyed as a result of his words and his acts."

A survivor of a Serb-run prison camp in Croatia interviewed by The Associated Press described the abuse he suffered at the hands of a paramilitary group called "White Eagles," said to be created by Seselj, as "treatment a human cannot understand."

"They were lords of life and death," said Ivan Lukic. "Every day, beatings. Sick dogs licking us. Gun barrels turned to our heads. Waking up with singing of offensive songs."

Many of Seselj's remarks Wednesday may be intended for his supporters in Serbia. He predicted he will be assassinated because of fears his party may do well in Serbian national elections May 6.

Seselj's party holds 57 out of 250 seats in Serbian Parliament.

The defendant was hospitalized earlier this month. He revealed in court Wednesday that was due to problems with a pacemaker, the source of his claims his opponents want to kill him with electricity.

Seselj surrendered to the court days after he was indicted in 2003, declaring his innocence and vowing to turn his trial into "a circus."

He went on a hunger strike in 2006 that left him close to death and delayed the start of his trial. He repeatedly named witnesses whose identities were shielded by court orders, leading to two contempt of court convictions, and he often insulted prosecutors and judges, whom he has likened to the Spanish inquisition.

Prosecutor Marcussen said Seselj has "made every effort to obstruct the proper functioning of the tribunal."

Judges have not set a date for a verdict, which will likely come in several months.

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