UN court orders Serbia to send Seselj back to cell

Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, 60, is an alleged war criminal (AFP Photo/Andrej Isakovic)

Belgrade (AFP) - Serbia's justice ministry on Tuesday said it had received an order from a UN war crimes court to return the ailing ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj immediately to his detention unit.

Alleged war criminal Seselj, 60, was allowed to travel to Serbia last year for cancer treatment pending a verdict in his case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, and he underwent emergency surgery earlier this month.

Seselj was accused of leading ethnic Serb volunteers in persecuting Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the 1990s wars in Croatia and Bosnia, but he has pleaded not guilty on nine counts, including murder, torture, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of villages.

The justice ministry received the order to return Seselj to The Hague on "Tuesday, May 26 or as soon as possible," a source at the ministry told AFP, requesting anonymity.

He said the request would now be reviewed by the government.

Since his release on humanitarian grounds, Seselj has repeatedly lashed out at the tribunal, vowing not to return for his sentencing or to serve any time, as well as resuming his nationalist rhetoric.

The ICTY subsequently revoked his provisional release in March.

Rasim Ljajic, the minister in charge of cooperation with the UN tribunal, said the only way to return Seselj to The Hague on Tuesday would be if he voluntarily surrendered, something the suspect had earlier firmly rejected.

"It is impossible that Seselj can be transferred on May 26. We are obliged by the law (on cooperation with the UN court) which sets forth precise deadlines," Ljajic was quoted as saying by the Blic daily.

The minister said that there would a ten to 15 day procedure if Seselj was arrested before he could be extradited.

Seselj voluntarily surrendered to the UN court in 2003 and went on trial four years later.