Russia has vetoed a UN resolution recognizing the Srebrenica massacre as genocide, claiming it would have created divisions in the Balkans. Britain, which put forward the resolution, condemned the move as outrageous.
Angola, China, Nigeria and Venezuela abstained from the vote, whereas 10 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the British-drafted resolution on Wednesday.
Bosnia is due to mark the 20th anniversary of the killings of some 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces toward the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
The vetoed resolution stated that acceptance of "the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation" and condemned "denial of this genocide as hindering efforts towards reconciliation."
The voting was supposed to take place on Tuesday, but was postponed for a day as the United Kingdom and the United States tried to convince Russia not to veto the resolution.
'Confrontational and politically motivated'
"The draft that we have in front of us will not help peace in the Balkans but rather doom this region to tension," Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told the Security Council members, who began the meeting with a minute of silence to remember the war victims.
Churkin said the draft was "not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated," adding that it unfairly singled out Bosnian Serbs for war crimes.
"Our vote against … will not however mean that we are deaf to the sufferings of the victims of Srebrenica and other areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina," the Russian ambassador said.
Instead of using the word "genocide," Moscow had proposed that the members condemn "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community."
The leaders of Bosnian Serbs and Serbia had lobbied with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a veto, as they said it only highlighted the killings in the final months of the war.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Tuesday the resolution would widen ethnic divisions in neighboring Bosnia.
British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson condemned Russia's move and accused its leaders of siding "with those who are unwilling to accept the facts today." He said he was "outraged" by the veto.
"Russia's actions tarnish the memory of all those who died in the Srebrenica genocide," he said. "Russia will have to justify its behavior to the families of over 8,000 people murdered in the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II."
"Genocide occurred at Srebrenica. This is a legal fact, not a political judgment. On this there is no compromise," he added.
Two international criminal courts have already declared the 1995 slaughter of Muslim boys and men as genocide.
Meanwhile, thousands of Srebrenica survivors and other people marched in Bosnia ahead of the 20th anniversary of the killings on Wednesday.
"It took me seven days to reach Nezuk (after escaping Srebrenica). It was horrible… dead people, blood everywhere. I saw my neighbors, friends, relatives, but they couldn't be helped," one march participant, Nedzad Mujic, told AFP news agency.
"We were all fighting for our own lives. Some people even left their own children behind," the 46-year-old survivor said.
Serbian Prime Minister Vucic said Tuesday he would attend the Srebrenica memorial this weekend to foster good ties with Bosnia.
"It is time to show that we are ready for reconciliation and that we are ready to bow our head before other peoples' victims," he told reporters.
shs/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)