BELGRADE -- Serbian police have closed a paramilitary youth camp organized by Russian and Serbian far-right groups on a mountain in western Serbia following complaints from the public.
Authorities say the summer camp on Mount Zlatibor included children as young as 12 and adults up to age 23. They were being trained by Russian and Serbian instructors on how to use guns and knives.
Altogether, a total of 34 males and 10 females were attending the weeklong Youth Patriotic Camp Zlatibor 2018. The camp attendees were from Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on August 17 that the camp was dismantled "because of possible abuse of children" and that participants were sent home.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade will not tolerate such camps where "children in uniforms" are taught combat skills.
Serbia's Defense Ministry said that it was not involved in organizing the camp.
Camp organizer Zeljko Vukelic, a Serbian war veteran who heads the Association of Participants in Armed Conflicts on Former Yugoslav Territory, told RFE/RL that the camp only used old rubber, training replica rifles.
Vukelic also told RFE/RL the so-called Patriotic Youth camp received support from Russia's embassy in Serbia and that a Russian military attache had visited the facility.
The Russian ultranationalist group ENOT Corp, a co-organizer of the camp, described the project as a "military patriotic" camp.
In April, about 30 Serbian teenagers traveled to Russia to attend a similar paramilitary training camp organized by ENOT Corp.
Valery Sambarov, one of ENOT's leaders, told RFE/RL their goal was to help young people "become real men and warriors in order to defend their country."
Such camps have proliferated in Russia since 2015, when the Kremlin called for an increase in "patriotic youth" -- children who grow up to be soldiers -- by sending them to paramilitary training facilities.
Serbia has declared its goal of joining the European Union. But it has been under strong pressure from Russia to reverse its pro-Western course.