Suspected Serb war criminal Seselj burns Croatia flag

Suspected Serb war criminal Seselj burns Croatia flag

Belgrade (AFP) - Alleged Serbian war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj set fire to a Croatian flag Wednesday in a deliberate act of defiance after he was ordered to return to his detention cell in The Hague.

The ultranationalist firebrand torched the flag outside a Belgrade courthouse, saying it was a response to Croatian leaders who welcomed Monday's order by a UN war crimes court revoking his provisional release.

The tribunal controversially allowed Seselj to return home to Serbia in November on "humanitarian grounds" for cancer treatment pending a verdict in his trial for war crimes during the Balkans conflicts in the 1990s.

"It proved useless to answer Croatian officials since they do not want to hear anything," 60-year-old Seselj told several dozen supporters.

"That's why I decided to send them a more understandable message. I will burn before you the Croatian Ustasha flag," he said, referring to the World War II Nazi-allied regime in Croatia.

Since his release, Seselj has repeatedly lashed out at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), vowing never to return for the verdict or to serve any jail time.

He has also resumed his poisonous nationalist rhetoric by advocating creation of a "Greater Serbia" encompassing large parts of Croatia.

Seselj was accused of leading ethnic Serb volunteers in persecuting Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the 1990s wars in Croatia and Serbia.

He has pleaded not guilty to nine counts, including murder, torture, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of villages.

Seselj voluntarily surrendered to the ICTY in 2003 and went on trial four years later, with proceedings finally wrapping up in 2012.

But Seselj, who underwent colon cancer surgery in 2013, is still awaiting a verdict.

Belgrade has reacted angrily to the ICTY order against Seselj and has not yet said whether it will send him back to The Hague.

But a Belgrade prosecutor has launched a criminal procedure against Seselj over the flag burning, Beta news agency reported.

The move was welcomed by Croatia's foreign ministry as "a step towards calming the situation".

"The accused war criminal Seselj is trying to influence relations between Serbia and Croatia through hate speech, war rhetoric and symbolism," the ministry said in a statement.

Last week, during an event marking the 16th anniversary of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia over its repressive policies in Kosovo, Seselj also burned the flags of NATO, the European Union, the United States and Kosovo.

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