Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has agreed to attend a commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The decision came after the UN postponed a vote on a resolution declaring that the killings were genocide.
Vucic said on Tuesday he would visit Srebrenica on July 11 to attend ceremonies to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre, in which Bosnian Serb forces killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
The premier, a former extreme nationalist who has since declared himself to be in favor of the EU, said the decision had been made collectively by his government. The UN International Court of Justice in The Hague has called the massacre genocide, but while Serbia acknowledges that a "grave crime" took place, it rejects the genocide label.
"I will represent a Serbia that is capable of admitting that certain individuals had committed crimes," Vucic told a news conference aired live on state television. "We must do that for our own sake." However, Vucic said: "there is no collective guilt."
"These people have names. We condemn each one of these horrible crimes and will sentence each of these criminals," he promised.
The Bosnian Serb troops, led by Gen. Ratko Mladic - who is currently on trial in the Hague - overran Srebrenica in July 1995, while it remained an enclave within Serb-held territory. Some 25,000 people remained in the town, seeking help from Dutch UN peacekeepers.
Worst atrocity in Europe since 1945
However, the UN soldiers were outnumbered and the Serb forces immediately slaughtered some 2,000 men and boys, before pursuing and killing some 6,000 who fled into the forests.
Srebrenica went down in history as the worst massacre to have occurred on European soil since World War II.
Vucic has said Serbia can admit an atrocity took place, but refuses to ackowledge that the massacre was genocide
Vucic told the press conference that he had been given assurances that a UN resolution on Srebrenica, which would have condemned the killings as genocide, would not be adopted. The Serbian premier had said he would not attend the commemoration if the resolution were to be voted through.
A Security Council vote on the resolution was to take place on Tuesday, but it was postponed to Wednesday. Vucic thanked Russia, China and "other countries" for opposing the resolution. "I must admit the Russian partners did not ask us for anything in return," Vucic said.
'Possible breakup of Bosnia'
Vucic has said the adoption of the resolution would be "humiliating" for Bosnian Serbs and Serbia, claiming it would reopen ethnic divides in Bosnia. The Bosnian Serb President, Milorad Dodik, has warned that the resolution's adoption would precipitate the breakup of Bosnia.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic is known to have sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, pleading for a Russian veto of the resolution through its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russia, which has strong religious and historic ties with Serbia, has circulated a rival draft resolution - more general in nature - that does not mention Srebrenica or genocide.
Britain, also a permanent member of the Security Council, drafted the UN resolution. Nikolic also wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II of England, urging her to persuade the British government to drop its initiative.
rc/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)