The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague on Wednesday night ordered the force-feeding of a Serbian warlord and senior politician who has been on hunger strike in custody for almost a month.
The decision, the first such order since the court was set up more than a decade ago to deal with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, came after a medical examination of Vojislav Seselj concluded that he might be a fortnight away from dying.
Seselj, a former close associate of the late president Slobodan Milosevic and an ultra-nationalist leader who heads the strongest political party in Serbia, is an advocate of aggressive strategies aimed at creating a "Greater Serbia" by appropriating parts of Croatia and Bosnia and incorporating Albanian-populated Kosovo.
He is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, when he allegedly led paramilitaries in "ethnic cleansing" operations against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia.
The tribunal last night told Dutch authorities to force-feed Seselj if there was a risk of him dying.
"There is a prevailing interest in continuing with the trial of the accused in order to serve the ends of justice," it said in a statement.
"The trial ... should not be undermined by the accused's manipulative behavior," it said.
Seselj, who surrendered to The Hague tribunal more than three years ago, has consistently sought to use the court as a stage to belittle and mock the institution.
He went on hunger strike last month to demand unlimited conjugal visits and the opening of frozen bank accounts in the US.
He insisted on defending himself at the trial and has verbally abused anyone who contradicted him.
The warlord gained notoriety when in the early 1990s he said the eyes of enemy Croats should be gouged out with rusty spoons.
His trial at The Hague only got under way last month after he had spent more than three years in custody.
He refused to turn up in court and went on hunger strike.
The trial was suspended last week as his health deteriorated.
Seselj is the leader of the Serbian Radical party, which is leading opinion polls in Serbia ahead of general elections next month.
He is top of the party's electoral list, guaranteeing him a seat in parliament, though he also faces a life sentence if found guilty of the war crimes charges.
About 30,000 Seselj supporters demonstrated in Belgrade at the weekend outside the US embassy, accusing Washington of being behind a plot to kill their leader.
Seselj's so-called last will and testament was read to the crowd, pledging Serbia to a pursuit of Greater Serbia that caused it to lose four wars in the 1990s and left tens of thousands dead.
The tribunal said it wanted to ensure Seselj did not die.
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