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Serbia War Crimes Tribunal Opens


The trial of Serb-Nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj has opened at the U.N. war crimes Tribunal in The Hague. He faces nine charges related to his use of hate speech and recruiting paramilitary groups, what prosecutors call part of his attempts to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. Lauren Comiteau is following the proceedings and reports from The Hague.

Ultra-nationalist Serb Vojislav Seselj showed little emotion and at times smiled as prosecutor Christine Dahl accused the former close associate of the late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, of making several inflammatory speeches calling for the creation of a "Greater Serbia".

"His brand of bellicose nationalism and persistent public advocation of threats and violence primed people to accept what was necessary to achieve his goals," said Prosecutor Dahl. "Without Seselj's ability and determination to instill his vision of reality into the minds of fellow Serbs, there would have been few tools, no armed men to carry out the violent goals of the Serb political and military leadership to create a greater Serbia."

In order to create that Greater Serbia, Prosecutor Dahl said Vojislav Seselj and the Serb leadership, including Milosevic, had to ethnically cleanse huge areas of Croatia and Bosnia of its non-Serbs in the 1990s.

Seselj denies the charges of murder, torture and the persecution of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

Acting as his own lawyer, Seselj says he does not deny making nationalist speeches, but insists they do not constitute war crimes.

He said in a pre-trial hearing that he is being tried for atrocious war crimes that he allegedly committed through hate speech as he preached his nationalist ideology.

Prosecutor Dahl said, the Balkans war was fought first with words, of which Seselj was the master. She portrayed him as a kind of hate speech ambassador, a war-mongering celebrity on the hate circuit.

She said during his trial, prosecutors will deconstruct his many speeches, like the one she played in court from the early war years. An interpreter relays what is happening.

Dahl says Seselj's extreme language was criminal and that it directly incited people to violence in places like Vukovar in Croatia and Zvornik in Bosnia. And that it also directly caused Muslims and Croats to flee their homes for safety.

Prosecutors say as a paramilitary commander, Seselj raised his own army of volunteers, which he indoctrinated and then sent to the front lines to commit the unspeakable.

Seselj's trial began a year ago, but was almost immediately stopped when he went on a hunger strike for 28 days to push various demands, including that he be able to defend himself.

He says he is unlikely to get a fair trial here, and that he will take on the Vatican and western countries in his political defense. He will get his chance Thursday, when he has been given time to address the court.