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INFO::: Transitional Justice > Seselj Case > Court Told not all Volunteers Affiliated to SRS


Court Told not all Volunteers Affiliated to SRS

Expert witness says that other political parties were part of "Chetnik" tradition at the time.

By Simon Jennings in The Hague


The trial of an ultranationalist Serbian politician accused of inciting Serbs to fight Bosniaks and Croats in the early 1990s has heard that not all those who took up arms belonged to his party.

Vojislav Seselj, president of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, is charged by prosecutors in The Hague with encouraging Serb volunteer soldiers to commit crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1993.

Seselj faces charges that he "espoused and encouraged the creation of a homogenous 'Greater Serbia' violence, and thereby participated in war propaganda and incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people".

The accused has proudly identified Serb volunteers who fought at that time as "Chetnik brothers". Chetniks were World War Two-era royalist fighters, but in the Balkan conflict of the early Nineties the term applied to Serbian ultranationalist fighters.

But a military analyst acting as an expert witness said this week that members of other political parties, many of whom were sworn enemies of the SRS, also called themselves Chetniks.

"I've come across information indicating that groups not affiliated with the SRS also used the terms Chetnik and Chetnik tradition," Reynaud Theunens told the court.

Seselj agreed with the witness's conclusions that not all so-called Chetniks were under his control.

"When it is said somewhere that certain Chetniks perpetrated a war crime, for example, that does not mean that those Chetniks mentioned were automatically members of the Serbian Radical party," Seselj told the court.

According to the witness, other political bodies besides the SRS were part of the Chetnik tradition at the time, including Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement and Milan Paroski's National Party.

Theunens, who has testified as an expert witness in other trials at the tribunal, including those of Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Martic, was tasked by prosecutors with compiling an expert report on the activities of volunteers recruited by Seselj's SRS.

He focused on the relationship between Seselj and the volunteer units deployed in Croatia and Bosnia during the early 1990s.

Theunens' report identified volunteer groups recruited by the SRS as responsible for crimes committed against Croats and Muslims in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1993.

When questioned about how hostilities in Croatia started, Theunens said that SRS volunteers who took up arms in Croatia in 1991 did so in the name of Serbian nationalism, rather than to protect themselves against the newly independent Croatian government, as was claimed by a previous witness.

"Volunteers who joined groups affiliated to the SRS were driven by Serb nationalism," Theunens told the court.

He said the volunteers felt the need to fight the Croats and Bosniaks, whom they described with pejorative terms.

"They all talked about the requirement to protect the Serbs, the threats by the Ustashe and the Turks - themselves derogatory terms. They didn't talk about the requirement to defend Yugoslavia."

However, Seselj disagreed with the witness's assessment, insisting that the volunteers in Croatia were fighting to protect their homeland, particularly in reaction to the new Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman.

"Isn't it obvious that Serbs were under threat and that was the reason for the volunteers to come to the rescue?" Seselj asked the witness.

"They, when they saw that Croatia was independent .said they did not accept Croatian symbols anymore, independent of whether Tudjman was already elected as president."

Seselj also sought to undermine Theunens' sources. In particular, he attacked the contents of a telegram sent by a Yugoslav army lieutenant from the village of Lovac in which he reported that rather than fighting, Serb volunteers were committing acts of abuse and looting against innocent Croats.

"I claim that there were no volunteers of the Serbian Radical Party there. I know exactly where the volunteers of the Serbian Radical Party were at the time," Seselj told the court.

Seselj was in a boisterous mood this week, showing little restraint as he challenged the witness's version of events as well as the impartiality of his testimony. Not for the first time in this trial, the court heard Seselj accuse a witness of acting as an extended arm of the prosecution.

"Mr Theunens, you are interested in the success of the indictment against me because you participated in its creation. You participated in preparing the trial, collecting documents, preparing and proofing witnesses and so on. Isn't that right?" Seselj asked.

Seselj also tested Theunens' historical knowledge, as well as his methodology in conducting his research, before declaring him unfit to appear as an expert.

"You keep on insisting that he's an expert. I'm trying to show you that he's an ignoramus," Seselj told the tribunal.

"I have already disqualified him from being any kind of expert. he lacks even secondary school knowledge."

Seselj further argued that after the autumn of 1991, the SRS volunteers came under the command of the army - the Yugoslav army in Vukovar and the Bosnian Serb force in the region of Sarajevo - and he was therefore not responsible for their crimes. He also mentioned specific SRS figures who set up their own local branches of the party over which he had no control.

"I think that the part of the indictment referring to Sarajevo must be dismissed. If I am to be held responsible, I can only be held responsible for those men I sent to the front from somewhere in Serbia," said Seselj.

But the judge pointed to the charge that Seselj conspired to create a Greater Serbia as part of a joint criminal enterprise. The prosecutor, Mathias Marcussen, agreed with the judge's dismissal of the argument.

"Some of the specific crimes were committed by men, in our view, under the accused's control. Other crimes might not have been committed by the accused's men. But it is our case that he is responsible also for those other crimes because they were part of the same criminal plan that Mr Seselj adhered to," he said.


Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.



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