Hero’s welcome for Serb accused of war crimes

Supporters greet far-right leader Vojislav Seselj as he lands in Belgrade after being released because of poor health.

Seselj's far-right supporters see him as a victim and someone who stood up for his country [EPA]

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian far-right leader accused of recruiting paramilitary forces during the Balkan wars, has arrived home to a hero’s welcome after UN war crimes judges approved his provisional release due to ill health.

The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader, who has been temporarily freed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), told more than a thousand supporters on Wednesday he was back in Serbia to overthrow Aleksandar Vucic, the country’s premier, and President Tomislav Nikolic.

After being greeted by family and more than a thousand supporters at Belgrade Airport, Seselj spoke at the party’s headquarters in Zemun, near Serbia’s capital Belgrade.

Eleven years after he surrendered to ICTY, Seselj addressed several hundred supporters from the balcony of SRS headquarters, saying he had “defeated the Hague tribunal”, adding that the battle “had been unexpectedly long”.

“I didn’t ask to be freed, but the Hague had wanted to get rid of me. It says in the decision that it is temporary, but ‘temporary’ means until we remove Tomislav Nikolic, Aleksandar Vucic and their traitor government,” Seselj said.

“[They are] outcasts who sold their honour and character, renounced the Serb nationalism and became Western servants.”

Outrage in Bosnia

To Serbian nationalists Seselj, 60, is a victim, a man who stood up for his country, and is now being persecuted by Western powers, but in neighbouring Bosnia and Croatia, his release caused outrage.

“The judges are mocking the victims,” said Bakira Hasecic, head of a Bosnian association of women raped during the wars in the 1990s.

Judges at the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, released Seselj so he could get medical treatment in Serbia on condition that he does not interfere with victims or witnesses and that he returns to the tribunal if summoned.

He is accused of crimes against humanity and violating the laws and customs of war between 1991 and 1993 in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vojvodina and has been on remand since 2003. His trial began in 2007.

The final prosecution evidence was presented in 2010, while Seselj, who is defending himself, did not want to present a defence.

In separate proceedings, Seselj has been sentenced to prison terms of 15, 18 and 24 months respectively, for contempt of court.

‘Good health and happiness’

Vucic on Wednesday reiterated earlier comments, saying he wished Seselj “good health and happiness”.

Until 2008, Nikolic and Vucic were in the SRS and were Seselj’s closest associates, before forming the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which is currently the ruling party in Serbia.

Before their political split, Vucic and Nikolic used to wear badges with Seselj’s image in Serbia’s Parliament, Al Jazeera’s Marko Subotic reported from Zemun.

At Belgrade airport and in Zemun, Seselj’s supporters carried Serbian and party flags, as well as flags bearing his image, sang nationalistic songs and yelled out insults towards Vucic and Nikolic.

The party has said Seselj will address the media on Thursday.

Zoran Krasic, SRS official, earlier told Al Jazeera that Seselj would address supporters at a “historic meeting” at Belgrade’s Republic Square on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies