Zagreb (AFP) – A Croatian parliamentary delegation on Wednesday aborted a visit to Serbia after Serb ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, recently convicted of war crimes by a UN court, trod on a Croatian flag..
The incident could further hit the already strained relationship between the former foes, whose ties have gradually improved since the 1990s war that claimed 20,000 lives.
“At the entrance of the (Serbian) parliament Seselj… desecrated the Croatian flag and then, passing by members of the Croatian delegation, insulted them,” read a statement by the delegation led by parliamentary speaker Gordan Jandrokovic.
According to a statement from Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party (SRS) he threw the flag on the floor and stepped over it.
“Because of this act that heavily violated the dignity of Croatia and its parliament, the visit was cut off,” the statement said.
In Belgrade, the incident was “strongly” condemned by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and parliamentary speaker Maja Gojkovic and other senior Serbian officials.
“An attempt to tear a Croatian or anybody else’s flag… and insulting members of official delegations visiting our country is not the behaviour that represents Serbia, values of the Serbian government and majority of our citizens,” Brnabic wrote on her Twitter account.
Last week a Hague-based panel of UN judges found Seselj guilty on appeal of crimes against humanity over his role during the 1990s wars in the Balkans, especially a contribution to the persecution and deportations of non-Serbs, including Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
The firebrand politician was sentenced to a 10-year jail term but will remain free because of time he already served in detention.
Following the verdict, opposition and human rights activists urged parliament to revoke Seselj’s status as an MP, but this call only received an aggressive reaction and insults in the parliament from him and other SRS officials.
Seselj told AFP after the Hague ruling ruling that he was “proud” of the crimes he was convicted of — including inciting persecution — and was willing to do the same again.