Prosecutors arrest seven over Srebrenica massacre
Men are the first to be detained for slaughter of over 1,000 Muslims in warehouse in 1995
A file image of forensic experts working on a mass grave in the village of Budak, located some 2.5km from a memorial centre for the massacre victims near the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 2005. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images.
A file image of Bosnian Muslims praying near coffins at a Memorial Centre in Potocari during a mass burial of more than 520 victims of the Srebrenica massacre. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters.
Prosecutors have made Serbia’s first arrests of people suspected of the Srebrenica massacre killings.
Serbian police arrested seven men accused of taking part in the slaughter of more than 1,000 Muslims at a warehouse on the outskirts of Srebrenica, a joint team of Serbian and Bosnian prosecutors said.
Altogether, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the eastern Bosnian enclave by the Serbs in 1995 - the only atrocity in Europe to be labelled genocide by the United Nations since the Second World War.
Serbia in the past has put on trial men who took a group of prisoners away from Srebrenica to be killed, and in 2011 it arrested Ratko Mladic - the warlord who masterminded the slaughter - and sent him to an international criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The new arrests are Serbia’s first attempt to bring to justice men who got their hands bloody in the massacre 20 years ago in July.
“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,” said Bruno Vekaric, the lead Serb prosecutor.
He said Serbia was approaching a key moment in confronting its past.
“We have never dealt with a crime of such proportions,” said Mr Vekaric, Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor. “It is very important for Serbia to take a clear position toward Srebrenica through a court process.”
The biggest arrest in the sweep was Nedeljko Milidragovic, the commander dubbed “Nedjo the Butcher”, who went on to become a successful businessman in Serbia.
The collaboration by prosecutors from former wartime enemies Serbia and Bosnia - supported by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague — is the most important case of judicial teamwork helping to heal the wounds of the war.
The arrests follow a December sweep by the same team of prosecutors of 15 suspects in a separate wartime atrocity, a massacre that followed an abduction from a Bosnian train.
Many Serbs still view as heroes their wartime leaders — including Mladic and Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who are on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal — and believe they were victims of an elaborate Western plot.
That makes the current campaign to detain the killers deeply sensitive. Serbia’s conservative government is allowing the prosecutions to move forward in part because it is eager to join the European Union.