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Serbia postpones first Srebrenica massacre trial

Defense lawyers have requested the replacement of three judges, marking another setback for justice. The trial marks the first of its kind in Serbia, where the government has persistently rejected the term genocide.

The landmark trial of eight former Bosnian Serb police officers charged with taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre has been postponed, marking another setback to attempts to bring war crimes suspects to justice in Serbian courts.

Defense lawyers demanded that the court replace a panel of three judges, citing procedural issues. The trial, which had been scheduled to begin on Monday, is expected to convene on Tuesday after reviewing the request.

The suspects stand accused of participating in the 1995 massacre that took place in the town of Kravica, where Muslim men and boys attempting to flee violence had been crammed into a warehouse in which Bosnian Serb police began shooting and throwing grenades, according to prosecutors.

Nedeljko Milidragovic, the unit's commander known as "Nedjo the Butcher," told his men that "nobody should get out alive," according to the indictment.

The proceedings mark the first time a Serbian court has taken up a case concerning the killing of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, considered Europe's worst single atrocity since World War II.

The massacre has been ruled a genocide by two international courts, although Belgrade has consistently rejected the terminology.

"This is a very important case as Serbia needs to face its past," Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia's former war crimes prosecutor, told AFP news agency. "Without that there can be no catharsis, no reconciliation in the region."

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'Never forget'

Munira Subasic, head of the Srebrenica Mothers association who lost 22 family members in the massacre, told reporters in front of the court in Berlgrade that she did not "expect anything" from the trial.

"The criminals were allowed to come to the trial as if they were witnesses. They walk free and live normally in Serbia," she said.

"My son was killed in that warehouse, where I found two bones and buried them. I will never forget that, will not forgive," Subasic added.

Despite Belgrade's promises to punish war criminals as they inch toward EU membership, critics say too little has been done to bring justice to massacres committed by Bosnian Serb forces.

Last week, Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor for The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), told the UN Security Council that Serbia has failed to hand over tree ultranationalist politicians sought for contempt of the court.

"There is little evidence Serbia is implementing its commitments to support war crimes prosecutions," said Brammertz.

ls/jm (AFP, AP)

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