Serb president denies Muslims' genocide

Mon, Jun 4, 2012, 01:00

SERBIA’S NEW president Tomislav Nikolic has denied that the Bosnian Serb massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica was genocide, fanning fears that the ex-ultranationalist could re-open old wounds in volatile former Yugoslavia.

“There was no genocide in Srebrenica. In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs who should be found, prosecuted and punished,” said Mr Nikolic of the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 men and boys that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice consider to have been genocide.

Mr Nikolic, who narrowly won this month’s presidential election-run off against liberal incumbent Boris Tadic, also said he would not attend next month’s commemoration of the massacre.

“Don’t always ask the Serbian president if he is going to Srebrenica,” he told Montenegrin television.

“My predecessor was there and paid tribute. Why should every president do the same?” His comments drew a swift response from Bosnia and Brussels, both of which are keeping a close eye on the former far-right radical who now claims to hold more moderate views.

“The denial of genocide in Srebrenica . . . will not pave the way for co-operation and reconciliation in the region, but on the contrary may cause fresh misunderstandings and tensions,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tri-partite presidency.

A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she “would like to remind everyone that Srebrenica has been confirmed as genocide by both the ICTY and the ICJ. Srebrenica was the largest massacre in Europe since the second World War, a crime against all of humankind. We should never forget and it should never be allowed to happen again.”

Mr Nikolic was last in government as part of a coalition led by nationalist Slobodan Milosevic when Nato bombed Serb forces out of Kosovo during a 1998-99 war. He broke with his mentor Vojislav Seselj after the latter was indicted for war crimes by the ICTY.

Having once said he would prefer Serbia to be part of Russia than an EU member, Mr Nikolic now says he supports accession to the EU, but not at the cost of recognising Kosovo’s sovereignty. He also advocates close ties with Russia and made his first trip as president to Moscow.

Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic said he would only attend Mr Nikolic’s June 11th inauguration if he saw “a visible change of his political views”.