President says Serb apology for 1995 Srebrenica massacre ‘historic’

By Dusan Stojanovic, AP
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Serb President: Srebrenica declaration ‘historic’

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s apology for the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica could help reconciliation in the war-scarred Balkans and lead to the capture of a wartime general accused of masterminding the carnage, Serbia’s president said Wednesday.

Boris Tadic said the “historic” parliamentary resolution adopted late Tuesday “clearly shows that Serbs are distancing themselves from that monstrous crime.”

Parliament narrowly approved the declaration condemning the worst carnage in Europe since World War II allegedly committed by the Bosnian Serb troops led by their wartime commander Ratko Mladic.

The country is still divided over Serbia’s role in the 1990s conflict, however, and hardline nationalists engaged in an acrimonious debate before the vote with members of Tadic’s pro-democracy coalition, which is seeking to distance the country from past warmongering under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Tadic said the apology “shows that Serbia belongs to the European civilization,” and its adoption “brings an encouragement to the state to continue to work to eventually arrest Mladic.”

Europe’s most-wanted war crimes fugitive has been on the run since 1995, when he was indicted by a U.N. tribunal for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre, and for other crimes committed by his troops during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

The European Union says Serbia must capture Mladic and break from past warmongering policies before it can be included into the bloc. On Wednesday, EU officials welcomed the Srebrenica apology.

“This is an important step for the country in facing its recent past, a process which is difficult but essential for Serbian society to go through,” the EU said in a statement. “It is the key for the reconciliation for the whole region.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the resolution represented “a courageous first step” by Serbian politicians toward facing the country’s past.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the resolution a positive step toward reconciliation, and said the United States welcomes Serbia’s efforts to capture remaining fugitives from the war.

Nationalist Serb lawmakers, however, rejected the declaration as “shameful” and “unjust.”

They insisted fewer people were killed in the eastern Bosnian enclave, and denied Western accusations of mass executions.

In Bosnia, the apology triggered mixed reactions.

Bosnian Muslims said it was not enough because it did not use the word “genocide,” in accordance with rulings by international courts.

“The massacre has not been named by its true name,” said Munira Subasic of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” victims’ association. “Genocide cannot be replaced with the word crime.”

Bosnian Serbs, meanwhile, were furious the declaration mentioned only Srebrenica and not crimes committed against Serbs by Muslims and Croats.

Rajko Kuzmanovic, the president of the Bosnian Serb ministate, said the declaration was “unacceptable and counterproductive.”

Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Irena Gajic in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina contributed to this report.

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