Croatia PM cancels Belgrade visit over freeing of war crimes suspect

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 28, 2014 6:04 AM

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's prime minister has canceled a trip to neighboring Serbia after the release of a hardline Serb nationalist by a U.N. war crimes tribunal, in the latest sign of reviving tensions between the former Balkan foes.

Zoran Milanovic had been due to visit Belgrade on Dec. 16 for a gathering of leaders from central and eastern Europe and China.

The Hague-based U.N. tribunal released Vojislav Seselj on grounds of ill health before it had reached a verdict in his trial for atrocities committed in Croatia and Bosnia during the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Seselj, who suffers from cancer, was freed after almost 12 years in detention.

After his return to Serbia on Nov. 12, Seselj was hailed as a hero at a rally of some 5,000 supporters. He has said he still believes in the 'Greater Serbia' ideology that fueled the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo two decades ago.

His release, and the muted reaction from Belgrade officials, has angered Croatia, which fought a war of independence with its rebel minority Serbs backed by Belgrade, including Seselj's militia, from 1991 to 1995.

"The prime minister has canceled (his trip) and it's to do with Seselj," a government spokesman told Reuters on Friday.

There was no immediate reaction from Belgrade.

Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said on Wednesday that Seselj's "wild outbursts" were setting back relations in the region.

She said she would ask leaders from the European Union, which Croatia joined last year, to demand "that the Serbian authorities distance themselves from (Seselj's) statements and thus confirm Serbia's European path".

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic are both former members of Seselj's Radical Party. They quit in 2008, five years after Seselj surrendered to The Hague, and have embraced the cause of joining the EU.

Seselj accuses them of betraying Serbia's national interest.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Gareth Jones)