BELGRADE, Serbia — The European Union on Monday warned member candidate Serbia that appointing a general who was convicted for war crimes as a lecturer at the Balkan country’s military academy goes against the EU’s principles.
Retired Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a U.N. war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed by Serb troops in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war. He was released in 2015 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
EU spokeswoman Maja Koncijancic said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press that “we expect political leaders to honor the victims of the past conflicts and sincerely promote reconciliation in the Western Balkans.”
“Political leaders have to lead all efforts in overcoming the difficult legacy of the past and constructively foster mutual trust, dialogue and tolerance,” she said. “Serbia, as (an EU) candidate country, cannot deviate from these principles. The appointment of a convicted war criminal to the Serbian Military Academy goes exactly against these principles.”
Although Serbia formally seeks EU membership, some of its leaders and government ministers have been advocating the return to the nationalist policies of the 1990s while increasing their defiance against the West.
Lazarevic commanded the Serb troops in Kosovo during a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists when over 10,000 people were killed and nearly one million deported across the border. Thousands of victims were transported in refrigerator trucks and buried in mass graves in Serbia as the then-leadership tried to cover up the atrocities.
The bloodshed stopped only after a 78-day NATO bombardment.
Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, which was declared in 2008.
Last week, Lazarevic gave his first lecture at the Military Academy in Belgrade, sharing his experience in Kosovo and the war against NATO to hundreds of cadets. The lecture was titled: “The heroism and humanity of Serbian soldiers in their defense against the NATO aggression.”
AP Writer Raf Casert contributed from Brussels.