November 26, 2014 / 11:24 AM / 3 years ago

Croatia urges EU to pressure Serbia over freed war crimes suspect

ZAGREB (Reuters) - The European Union should demand that the government of EU candidate Serbia distance itself from a hardline Serb nationalist leader recently released from a U.N. war crimes tribunal, Croatia said on Wednesday.

Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj looks on during his rally in Belgrade November 15, 2014. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Croatia joined the EU last year. Before admitting any more members from the western Balkans, the EU wants to see better cooperation among the states which emerged from the former Yugoslavia after the wars of the 1990s.

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

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

“His wild outbursts are setting back relations in the region,” Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

“We want to encourage our (EU) colleagues to condemn (Seselj‘s) behavior and demand that the Serbian authorities distance themselves from his statements and thus confirm Serbia’s European path,” Pusic added.

Pusic said she had discussed Seselj’s behavior with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and said she also wanted the EU to take part in a U.N. Security Council debate on the tribunal’s work set for December, when Seselj’s release will be on the agenda.

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 they have embraced the cause of joining the EU.

Seselj accuses them of betraying Serbia’s national interest.

Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Gareth Jones

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