Prosecutors from Serbia and Bosnia have arrested former militiamen accused of carrying out killings during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. The mass killings were the worst on European soil since World War II.
Eight men accused of carrying out killings during the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina were arrested Wednesday in Belgrade in an unprecedented joint operation between Serbia and Bosnia.
The arrest is a milestone in cooperation between the former wartime adversaries over the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered around Srebrenica after Serb militiamen overran a United Nations-designated protected area in 1995 – the sole atrocity to be labeled genocide by the United Nations since World War II.
"We have never dealt with a crime of such proportions," Serbia's lead prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told the Associated Press. "It is very important for Serbia to take a clear position toward Srebrenica through a court process."
In the past Serbia has indicted men accused of overseeing operations where civilians were subsequently killed. Serbia also extradited former warlord Ratko Mladic to the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2011, where he stands accused of directing the killings.
Prosecutors say this is the first attempt to hold the actual killers accountable. "It is important to stress that this is the first time that our prosecutor's office is dealing with the mass killings of civilians and war prisoners in Srebrenica," Vekaric noted.
The most prominent suspect arrested is Nedeljko Milidragovic, who was infamously known as "Nedjo the Butcher" and went on to become a successful businessman in Serbia.
Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told the Associated Press that Serbian authorities had sought eight men in morning operations in different locations but that one suspect had fled. He was apprehended after a hours long manhunt.
"They are former members of a special brigade of the Bosnian Serb police," Vukcevic said
Many Serbs and Bosniaks still regard their wartime leaders as heroes. Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial in The Hague, remains a popular figure venerated by ultranationalist Serbs.
Earlier this month, U.S. authorities deported 150 Bosnians for their alleged role in ethnic cleansing against Serbs. The late Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnia’s wartime leader, was under investigation for war crimes, but he died in 2003 before the allegations were ever made public.
That makes any attempt to arrest leaders and combatants from the former Yugoslavia deeply sensitive in the region. Serbia's current government is likely cooperating with the prosecutions in order to bolster its chances to join the European Union.
jar/bw (AP, AFP)