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Serbian Ultranationalist Seselj Faces UN War Crimes Court Verdict

Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj is accused of inciting ethnic cleansing during the conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. (file photo)
Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj is accused of inciting ethnic cleansing during the conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. (file photo)

A United Nations Court is set to rule in the war crimes trial of Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian nationalist accused of inciting murderous ethnic cleansing during the 1990s Balkan wars.

The 61-year-old will not be present for The Hague court's judgment on March 31. He was released in 2014 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he has since immersed himself in Serbian politics, addressing rallies in defiance of the court's orders.

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

Prosecutors say he helped set up paramilitary units to carry out his goal of creating an ethnically pure "Greater Serbia" from the disintegrating state of Yugoslavia. Those paramilitaries drove tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats from their homes.

Seselj "raised his own army of volunteers,...indoctrinated them with his poisonous ideas," and sent them to commit "unspeakable crimes," UN prosecutor Christine Dahl told the court in 2007.

"In the end, Seselj did not achieve a Greater Serbia, he managed to achieve a lesser Serbia and gave the world the term ethnic cleansing," she said.

Seselj is known for fiery speeches and crude threats such as vowing to kill Croats by "gouging out their eyes with rusty spoons." He once likened himself to divisive U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Seselj, who defended himself at trial, says he is innocent. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment, which would require his transfer to The Hague.

Extradition would pose a dilemma for Serbia's government as handing him over would anger the government's base of supporters who see the Western-backed court as biased against Serbia.

But refusal to cooperate with the court would endanger the funding Serbia receives from the European Union, which the current government hopes to join.

In an interview with Newsweek's Serbian edition, Seselj said he expects 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.

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.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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