Serbia's Seselj says Hague tribunal illegitimate

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AMSTERDAM, Nov 8 (Reuters) A Serbian radical accused of stirring nationalism and promoting ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia said today that the UN tribunal trying him for war crimes was ''illegal and illegitimate''.

Prosecutors say Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj incited such hatred of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs it sparked mass deportations and drove Serb paramilitaries to a frenzy of murder and torture. He denies the charges.

His trial, which opened yesterday, is a new chance for prosecutors to hold Serb leaders responsible for crimes during the wars that tore apart former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The trial of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic ended without a verdict after his death in The Hague in March 2006.

Seselj, 53, was defiant and condemned the court as a tool of the United States, which led a NATO bombing campaign that drove Milosevic's troops out of Kosovo in 1999.

''I am being tried by an illegal and illegitimate court. I am talking about an institution that was unlawfully established ... the (U.N.) Security Council did that according to the diktat of the United States of America,'' Seselj said today.

''The task of this court has been carried out through many of its judgments, and that task is to falsify modern Serb history.'' FORCED REMOVALS He is accused of a joint criminal enterprise with Milosevic to create a ''Greater Serbia'' by inciting the forced removal of non-Serbs from large swaths of Bosnia and Croatia.

''A joint criminal enterprise was organised by those breaking up Yugoslavia, not by us, who opposed the breakup of Yugoslavia, who opposed one-sided secession,'' Seselj said.

Seselj said he was ''especially grateful to the prosecution for enabling me to suffer for my ideology''.

''With this trial, my ideology of Serb nationalism cannot be uprooted from the Serbian people, it will grow even deeper,'' he said.'' ''I express my greatest regret that those who wrote the statute of the ICTY did not envisage the death penalty, so that ... upright as my friend Saddam Hussein, I could put the final seal on my ideology. It would become immortal.'' At one point during Seselj's opening statement, the court asked him to speak more slowly so interpreters could keep up and also to speak less loudly as judges had trouble hearing the translation in their headsets above his voice.

Seselj promised to try but said: ''Adrenaline has been rising in me for five years and now is the day.'' Last year, Seselj went on hunger strike for 28 days to win the right to represent himself in court, causing the start of the trial to be suspended.

Reuters NC DB2300

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