UN prosecutor to appeal acquittal of Serb radical leader

UN prosecutor to appeal acquittal of Serb nationalist Seselj

The Hague (AFP) - The chief prosecutor of the UN's Yugoslav war crimes court said Wednesday he will appeal the surprise acquittal of radical Serb nationalist Vojislav Seselj, denouncing "far-reaching ... errors" in last week's verdict.

"My office has decided to appeal the judgement," prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement, adding the judges had made "unreasonable and conflicting factual findings in their ruling.

In a majority ruling on March 31 that triggered outrage among victims, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judges found Seselj not guilty on all nine charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1990s Balkans wars.

Prosecutors had alleged that the 61-year-old firebrand leader of the Serbian Radical Party was behind the murders of many Croats, Muslims and other non-Serb civilians as well as the forced deportation of "tens of thousands" from large areas of the Balkans.

But the judges said the prosecution had failed to prove "that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the non-Serb civilian population in large areas of Croatia and Bosnia Hercegovina."

In his hard-hitting rebuttal, Brammertz said there had been "a fundamental failure by the majority (judges) to perform its judicial function."

The judges had shown "a sweeping disregard" for the number of crimes which have already been proven to have taken place during the conflict, he said.

Through their ruling, he argued, they had "unreasonably allowed for the possibility that:"

-- "criminal conduct was simply a lawful contribution to the war effort"

-- "that incendiary hate speech was simply morale boosting" for Serb forces

-- "the deployment of ethnic cleansing forces was a measure to protect the Serb population."

Brammertz said the notice of appeal would be officially filed shortly, adding that for the sake of the victims it was "of utmost priority for this office."