Serbian PM pays respects to Srebrenica Muslim victims
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic paid his respects Wednesday to the Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, months after he was chased from a ceremony in the Bosnian town by an angry stone-throwing crowd, AFP reports.
Vucic, a former ultra-nationalist turned pro-European, also pledged financial help to Srebrenica after laying a wreath of white roses at the town's memorial in the presence of the Muslim mayor and Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic.
Some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces forces who captured Srebrenica in July 1995 near the end of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, in the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
In 1995 Srebrenica was supposedly a UN-protected "safe haven" but the Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic brushed aside the lightly armed Dutch UN peacekeepers.
Vucic is remembered by Bosnian Muslims for the words he had said in July 1995, just a few days after the massacre: "If you kill one Serb we will (kill) 100 Muslims."
On Wednesday, Vucic with a solemn expression on his face and accompanied by Izetbegovic and Srebrenica mayor Camil Durakovic, walked for around half an hour among the graves of some 6,000 victims whose remains, discovered in dozens of mass graves, were laid to rest at the memorial cemetery.
'Genocide was committed here'
However, the head of an association of women whose male relatives were killed in the massacre said Vucic should admit a genocide was committed inSrebrenica, as acknowledged by two international courts.
"Vucic must say openly to his people, he should no longer hide the fact that a genocide was committed here," Munira Subasic, head of the Mothers ofSrebrenica group, told AFP.
"He paid respect to the victims, laid a wreath, but he has to explain that to his people," she said, estimating it was key for reconciliation in both Bosnia and the whole region.
"It is not for us... since no one can bring back our children, but it has to be done for our grandchildren who will live here."
Although in the past Serbian leaders had paid respects to the massacre victims and deplored the crime, both Serbia and Bosnian Serbs refuse to call theSrebrenica massacre a genocide.
The visit was Vucic's first to Srebrenica since July 11, when the crowd at a memorial ceremony marking 20 years since the atrocity started chanting "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) and began hurling stones and bottles.
The premier was forced to run for cover, shielded by his bodyguards. Vucic said later that a stone hit him in the mouth but he was unhurt.
There was a heavy police presence at the memorial and in the town for Wednesday's visit, during which Vucic also took part at an economic conference.
- 'Turned towards future' -
Addressing the two-day meeting, during which local authorities plan to present investment opportunities in the town, Vucic pledged five million euros ($5.3 million) to the Srebrenica municipality for development, namely infrastructure projects.
The town, once the most prosperous in the Balkan country, now has some 7,000 inhabitants compared with 37,000 before the conflict.
"We paid tribute to the innocent victims... but we came also to invest in a common future and celebrate life," Vucic said.
"We would like that Srebrenica becomes a bridge for cooperation" betweenSerbia and Bosnia, the Serbian premier added.
"No one can return brothers to their sisters, nor sons to their mothers," Vucic said in a reference to the massacre victims.
"But what we can do is turn us towards the future and build a different and better one."
During a visit to Sarajevo earlier this month, Vucic said improved ties between Serbs and Muslims were "crucial" for the stability in the volatile Balkans.
Bosnia's 1992-1995 war between Croats, Muslims and Serbs claimed some 100,000 lives.
The conflict left the country split into two semi-independent entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serbs' Republika Srpska.
Srebrenica remained in Republika Srpska.