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UN Trial Of Serb Ultranationalist Leader Begins

Trial of Serb ultranationalist leader begins at UN war crimes tribunal

The Serbian ultranationalist politician Vojislav Šešelj used "poisonous ideas" to incite war crimes against non-Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, prosecutors at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) said today as they outlined their case at his trial.

The prosecution said Mr. Šešelj - the president of the Serbian Radical Party - made speeches that led to the murder, torture and persecution of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb civilians and their expulsion from parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Vojvodina region of Serbia between August 1991 and at least September 1993.

Mr. Šešelj, 53, is facing three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes relating to his alleged role in an ethnic cleansing campaign by Serbian forces. He has pleaded not guilty to these charges, which include murder, torture, imprisonment and deportation.

Prosecutors made their opening statement today at the Tribunal, which is based in The Hague, and will start introducing evidence next month. Mr. Šešelj, who is representing himself, will have the opportunity to make an opening statement tomorrow.

The trial began in November last year in the absence of Mr. Šešelj, who was then on a hunger strike and refusing to appear in court. But the judges later adjourned the trial until he became fit enough to participate fully in the proceedings as a self-represented accused, and Mr. Šešelj - who had surrendered to the Tribunal in February 2003 - ended his hunger strike.

The indictment against him accuses Mr. Šešelj of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, among others, that led to the extermination and expulsion of non-Serb people with the aim of forming a greater Serbian state.


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