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Croats, Bosnians Dismayed By Serbian Nationalist Seselj’s Acquittal

  • RFE/RL

Croats and Bosnians have reacted with dismay to the acquittal of Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj by a UN court.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague ruled on March 31 that Seselj was not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic called the verdict "shameful," telling reporters that Seselj’s acquittal was a "defeat of The Hague court and the prosecution."

Seselj "committed evil and did not show any remorse," Oreskovic said.

The country's foreign minister, Miro Kovac, said the ICTY’s ruling gave a "moral blank check" to those all around the world who incite war, call for ethnic cleansing, and implement policies aimed at changing forcefully internationally recognized borders.

In the wake of the ruling, Croatia banned Seselj from entering the country, saying he could represent a threat to public order.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's prime minister, Denis Zvizdic, said he "can’t understand" how a person who participated in the aggression against Bosnia could be acquitted.

Sinan Alic, who heads the Bosnian NGO Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Foundation, described the acquittal as "madness squared" and the "collapse of international justice."

Ljiljana Alvira, president of the Union of Associations of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in the Croatian Homeland War, expressed shock at the verdict.

WATCH: Hague Tribunal Clears Seselj Of War Crimes Charges

"We are all witnesses that [Seselj] participated in and encouraged atrocities across the Croatia and Bosnia," she said.

The UN court's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said in a statement that the victims of crimes committed in the Balkan wars "will be disappointed" by the verdict.

He also said his office would review the verdict to see if there were grounds for appeal.

"This is not the first time a surprise judgment is coming out," Brammertz later told journalists.

A deputy prime minister under the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Seselj faced three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes for inciting ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serbian province of Vojvodina.

When the trial opened in 2007, prosecutors accused Seselj of raising an army of volunteers who had committed "unspeakable crimes."

They argued he was criminally responsible for the murder, torture, and deportation of tens of thousands of non-Serbs as part of his project to create a "Greater Serbia" from the disintegrating state of Yugoslavia.

But presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said on March 31 that Seselj bore no individual responsibility for the crimes he was accused of committing from August 1991 to September 1993.

After delivering the verdict, he announced that Seselj, who was not present in the courtroom, was now "a free man."

In Belgrade, Seselj supporters gathered at his Serbian Radical Party headquarters clapped and screamed with joy as the verdict was read out.

Seselj, who had denied the charges, was allowed to go to Belgrade in 2014 for cancer treatment and has since immersed himself in Serbian politics, addressing rallies in defiance of the court's orders.

Despite poor health, Seselj has appeared on reality television, publicly burning EU and NATO flags. He has been firing up his far-right followers in rallies ahead of a general election in April, in which the Serbian Radical Party leader hopes to win a seat.

The 61-year-old welcomed the verdict, writing on Twitter: "As I understand, it looks like the battle is finished!"

Seselj told a news conference that the UN judges "from the legal aspect returned the only possible verdict."

He said he had previously filed a 12 million euro ($13.6 million) compensation claim against the UN tribunal and he might now ask for an extra 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for "all the suffering I have been through."

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said he was "indifferent" to the court’s ruling, saying, "I have no feelings for [Seselj]."

But in Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, the verdict was welcomed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. "I congratulate my friend on his victory," Rogozin said in a tweet.

Seselj’s acquittal comes a week after the ICTY sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in prison after convicting him of genocide and war crimes committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, which left some 100,000 people dead.

General Ratko Mladic, the general who commanded Bosnian Serb forces, is awaiting his verdict at The Hague.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP