A former Yugoslav commander convicted of crimes against humanity for ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians has been declared an honorary citizen by a town in southern Serbia.
Vladimir Lazarevic served 10 years in prison for his conviction by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for deportations and other inhumane treatment of ethnic Albanians as the Yugoslav Army's Pristina Corps commander in the late 1990s.
Officials in Pantalej, one of five municipalities composing the town of Nis, announced Lazarevic's award along with 10 others on an annual "glory" day earlier this week.
It did not cite any basis for the honor.
The tribute was backed by the municipal assembly controlled by the ruling national Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic.
Lazarevic returned to Nis in December 2015 following his release after serving two-thirds of his Hague sentence.
He was personally welcomed by Serbia's then-ministers of defense and justice and the Serbian Army chief of the General Staff at the time, Ljubisa Dikovic.
Current Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin was also among VIPs in attendance.
Lazarevic greeted sympathizers, saying he had been convicted on the multiple counts of war crimes "without any material evidence."
A representative of the NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights, Ivan Duric, said this month's honor in Nis suggests Serbian institutions have a long way to go to demonstrate the kind of values and reconciliation efforts that could lead to Serbian membership in the European Union.
"I think there is less and less room for the lies and fraud that Serbia is on the European path and on the path of reconciliation," Duric said.