Serbia's newly-inaugurated president has said in an interview that the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica amounted to war crimes, but not genocide.
A day after taking office as Serbia's new president, Tomislav Nikolic said in an interview that the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war was not genocide.
"There was no genocide in Srebrenica," he said in an interview with Montenegrin state television that was published on its website. "In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs, who should be found, prosecuted, and punished."
The United Nations International Court of Justice and the UN Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia both consider the massacre to be genocide. Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs under the command of Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is on trial at the UN tribunal in The Hague along with Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. They are both accused of genocide, among other crimes, in connection with the massacre.
Nikolic to skip memorial ceremony
The Muslim chairman of Bosnia's three-way presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, criticized Nikolic's comments on Friday.
"The denial of genocide in Srebrenica ... will not pave the way for cooperation and reconciliation in the region, but on the contrary may cause fresh misunderstandings and tensions," he said. "By giving such statements, Nikolic has clearly demonstrated that he is still not ready to face the truth about the events that took place in our recent past."
Nikolic also said he would not attend a yearly commemoration for Srebrenica victims on July 11.
"My predecessor was there and paid tribute ... why should every president do the same?" he said.
Nikolic was once an ally of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic. He served as deputy prime minister in a coalition with Milosevic when NATO bombed Serbia to drive its troops out of Kosovo during a 1998-99 war. Known previously as a hard-line nationalist, in recent years Nikolic has attempted to rebrand himself from being staunchly anti-Western to espousing a more pro-EU conservative stance.
The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial office.
mz/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)