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Serbia confronts its past in landmark Srebrenica trial

Eight former Bosnian Serb officers have appeared before a Belgrade court charged with taking part in the Srebrenica massacre. This is the first case concerning the atrocity that a Serbian court has dealt with.

As proceedings opened on Monday in Belgrade's war crimes court, the eight accused were read the names of the 1,300 people they are accused of murdering in  Kravica, a village just outside Srebrenica, in 1995.

The long-awaited trial is the first that a Serbian court has dealt with for the killing of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb troops. The mass murder was Europe's worst single atrocity since World War II and has been classified as genocide by international courts.

The massacre in Kravica in July 1995 saw hundreds of Muslim men and boys crammed into a warehouse and killed using grenades and machine guns.

Europe watches

The trial is seen as a major test of Serbia's pledge to deal with its wartime past and punish war criminals, two major provisions as it advances toward EU membership.

Serbia's nationalist government has been criticized for stalling on that pledge.

The accused were apprehended in 2015 but later released and continue to walk freely, despite the severity of the charges. They maintain that they are innocent.

Efforts to postpone

The trial was scheduled to begin in December. However, defense lawyers successfully postponed the hearing because of demands to know the identity of the protected witnesses whom the prosecution had interviewed.

On Monday, defense attorneys again called for the trial to be adjourned, arguing that statements from the protected witnesses - believed to be Bosnian Serbs also involved in the execution squads - were made without the presence of a defense attorney and were therefore inadmissible.

"It is clear to anyone that the value of such evidence is misplaced and cannot be accepted by the court," defense attorney Miroslav Petkovic said.

The judge rejected a second postponement. Nikola Cukanovic, a legal representative for the victims' families, said he expected the court to deliver "justice according to the law."

Among the accused is a special police unit commander, Nedeljko Milidragovic. Known as "Nedjo the Butcher," he is charged with ordering and "organizing" the killings. Prosecutors say he shot anyone showing any signs of life in the aftermath of the carnage.

dm/mkg (AP, dpa)

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