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article imageSerbia shutters Russia-backed military training camp for kids

By AFP     Aug 17, 2018 in World

Serbian authorities on Friday ordered the closure of a controversial "patriotic youth camp", where teens were handling fake weapons and dressing in army uniforms as part of military-style training.

Serbia's Interior Minister told reporters he had ordered the closure of the camp, which was run by Serbian and Russian veterans, a day before it was set to finish in response to a public backlash.

"We ordered the dismantling of this camp because of possible exploitation of children and the reaction it provoked among the public," Nebojsa Stefanovic said.

Since early August around four dozen boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 23 had been attending the "Patriotic Youth Camp" on Zlatibor, a mountain 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Belgrade.

The camp, which organisers say focuses on survival skills, was run by veterans groups from Serbia and Russia.

Last April, some 30 children from Serbia travelled to Russia for similar training.

Local reports about this year's camp on Serbian soil drew criticism from rights groups and opposition parties, who slammed the training as indoctrination.

Zeljko Vukelic, a Serbian veteran of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and one of the camp's organisers, criticised the sudden closure.

"The camp was organised like others that have existed for years in Russia and tend to reinforce patriotic feelings" among children, he told the press.

He insisted a similar training would be organised in Serbia next year because "patriotism has no price".

Russia and Serbia are key allies.

Belgrade has refused to join Western sanctions against the Kremlin, while Moscow supports Serbia in denying the independence of Kosovo, a former southern province that broke away after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999.

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