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Bosniak leader Izetbegovic pays tribute to Serb wartime victims

The Muslim leader of the nation's three-member presidency said he had a "debt" towards the victims. More than 100,000 people died in the Bosnian War of the early 1990s.

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, on Monday paid tribute to Serb civilians killed by a Bosnian Muslim paramilitary group in Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Izetbegovic laid a wreath of white flowers on a rock at the massacre site, which lies on the outskirts of Sarajevo.

"I feel I have a debt [towards the victims]. I should have come here earlier to express my regrets and express condolences to the people who have ended up here in an awful way," Izetbegovic said. "This is the main why I came here … But I also hope that this gesture will inspire others to do something similar."

The Bosnian War killed more than 100,000 people and displaced more than half of the country's pre-war population.

Izetbegovic's visit was the first by a senior Bosniak Muslim official to the massacre site, where at least 29 bodies have been exhumed. However, the process of exhumation was never completed.

His father, Alija Izetbegovic, was president of the country at the time of the massacre and when government forces eventually fought the paramilitary unit responsible for the crimes against humanity.

Alija Izetbegovic (center-right), along with the rest of the Bosnian presidency, met with US President Bill Clinton in 1997

Alija Izetbegovic (center-right), along with the rest of the Bosnian presidency, met with US President Bill Clinton in 1997

'Brave gesture'

Milan Mandic, president of an association of Serbs who disappeared in the region, told the AFP news agency that Izetbegovic's visit was a "brave gesture for Serb people and the families" of the victims.

"In the capacity as the most influential politician among Bosniaks, he found strength to come to this place and lay flowers in the memory of these innocent victims," Mandic said.

Serb Civic Council leader Milorad Novakovic said "this act will contribute a lot to reconciliation here."

"It will contribute to a joint life here; it will contribute to lasting peace and tolerance," he said.

ls/msh (AFP, AP)