A Message to Europe Serbia Apologizes for Srebrenica Massacre

Serbia on Wednesday took an important first step towards addressing its troubling recent history by passing a resolution condemning the massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia. But the resolution aimed at steering a path towards EU membership for the Balkan nation steers clear of the term "genocide."

A Finnish forensic expert places a number next to the skull of a Srebrenica victim found in the hills above the village of Kravice near the Bosnian town where the massacre took place.
AP

A Finnish forensic expert places a number next to the skull of a Srebrenica victim found in the hills above the village of Kravice near the Bosnian town where the massacre took place.


After more than 13 hours of debate, the Serbian parliament passed a resolution apologizing for the massacre at Srebrenica with a slim majority early Wednesday morning. The resolution "strongly condemns" the atrocity that took place during the Bosnian war. Lawmakers expressed "their condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything possible was done to prevent the tragedy."

In 1995, fanatic Serbians murdered around 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys in the city of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. A small contingent of Dutch peacekeepers assigned to protect the city, a United Nations "safe area," did little to stop the incursion and killings conducted by Bosnian Serb soldiers. The massacre is considered the worst war crime to be perpetrated in Europe since World War II. The bodies of the victims were later found in mass graves.

With the resolution, parliament broke years of silence in Serbian politics over the atrocity. The resolution stops short, however, of describing the massacre as "genocide," as it has been labelled by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently facing war crimes charges at ICTY. However, former Serbian General Ratko Mladic -- the other man believed to be responsible for the massacre -- remains at large.

Rapprochement with the EU

In its resolution, the Serbian parliament promised to continue working together with the UN war crimes tribunal and emphasized the importance of finding and arresting Mladic. The move places Serbia firmly on the path of rapprochement with the European Union. Next year, the country is hoping to obtain the status of accession candidate to the 27-member bloc. The EU has made the accession process contingent on efforts to find Mladic and improved cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague.

There were 127 votes in favor of the resolution in the 250-member parliament; only 173 lawmakers were present for the poll. The resolution had been introduced by the pro-European government of Prime Minister Boris Tadic but his coalition watered down important parts of the resolution in order to make its passage possible. The word "genocide," for example, was removed in order to get the Socialists on board.

Serbian nationalists vehemently opposed the resolution and the opposition criticized the fact that the text places blame for the massacre on all Serbian people. They said the Serbs would now go down in the history books as "eternally guilty."

'A Stain on Our Country'

Nationalists consider the reports about the murders to be "exaggerated" and point to the atrocities committed against Serbians during the civil war. The resolution represents a "stain on our country" and is "a crime," members of the opposition in parliament stated before the vote.

"The Serbian people should not be condemned for something they never even did," nationalist leader Dragan Todorovic said. The right-wing parties had called for the separate resolution over Srebrenica to be abandoned in favor of a resolution that condemned all crimes committed during the civil wars of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. They argued there should be no "double standards."

But some members of the governing coalition of Democrats and Socialists feel the resolution didn't go far enough. "This declaration is only a beginning because the issues it treats are only the tip of the iceberg of the past we have to face," said Nenad Canak, a member of the ruling coalition.

US General Backs Away from Anti-Gay Remarks

In a separate development, a retired United States general who drew international criticism for claiming the Dutch troops failed to stop the massacre at Srebrenica because there were homosexuals in the ranks, has apologized for his remarks. During a Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry into President Barack Obama's plans to change the military's controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," anti-gay policy, John Sheehen, a former NATO supreme commander, testified that "open homosexuality led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I am referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs: the battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldier to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them." He claimed that Dutch military leaders had told him it was because gay soldiers were present, whom he described as "part of the problem."

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende decsribed the statements as "disgraceful".

On Tuesday, the Dutch Defense Ministry released a letter from Sheehan to the Dutch general he had attributed the remarks to, in which he apologizes for his comments to the Senate. "I am sorry that my recent public recollection of discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military," he wrote. "To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers."

dsl -- with wire reports

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