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Hague judge takes over Serb witness tampering case

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The Hague (AFP)

A UN judge on Tuesday took over a witness tampering case involving lawyers for radical Serb nationalist Vojislav Seselj, saying witnesses feared for their lives if the case goes to trial in Belgrade.

Defence lawyers Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta were charged in December 2014 with "having threatened, intimidated, offered bribes to, or otherwise interfered with two witnesses" in two cases involving Seselj.

In June 2018, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in The Hague referred their case to Serbia for its national courts to deal with.

But judge Liu Daqun on Tuesday revoked the referral, ordering Serbia to send the two lawyers to The Hague "without delay" and issuing fresh international arrest warrants for the pair.

"The witnesses are not willing to disclose their personal information to Serbian authorities for fear of their life," Daqun said in a written order.

The witnesses "unequivocally confirm their unwillingness to testify should the case proceed to trial in Serbia", which would "frustrate the proceedings", the judge added.

The two lawyers now serve as deputies in Seselj's Radical Party in the Serbian national assembly in Belgrade.

Last April, UN judges sentenced Seselj to 10 years in prison over crimes against humanity, but he remained free because of the time he had already served in detention.

The Serb nationalist was convicted of instigating persecution, deportation and other inhuman acts over an anti-Croat speech delivered in the early 1990s as the region descended into civil war.

The now-defunct International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) -- which the MICT has taken over from -- issued arrest warrants against Jojic and Radeta in January 2015 and the case has been dragging on ever since.

Jojic and Radeta are both defence lawyers and they were charged in December 2014 with "having threatened, intimidated, offered bribes to, or otherwise interfered with two witnesses" in two cases involving Seselj.

Serbia last year insisted it was ready to launch criminal proceedings against the defendants, who themselves said they were willing to be put on trial in their own country.

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