UN divided on calling Srebrenica ‘genocide’ 20 years on

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The UN Security Council has postponed a vote recognising the Srebrenica massacre as genocide after Russia threatened to veto the draft text, even as Serbia’s prime minister called for reconciliation 20 years after the slaughter.

The vote — led by Britain and which condemns the mass killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II — was delayed until Wednesday.

The 15-member council was hoping to formally recognize the killings as an act of genocide for the first time this week as Bosnia prepares for national commemorations to mark the 20th anniversary on Saturday.

“This has been a difficult negotiation. Discussions have gone right to the wire,” said a spokesman for the British mission after the vote was delayed twice on Tuesday.

“Given the significance of the anniversary, we’re committed to getting the broadest level of support from council members. We hope this delay will allow us to do so.”

Bosnian Serb leaders had lobbied Russia to block the draft UN resolution, arguing that it was “anti-Serb” because it focused on the killings in the final months of the bloody war 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have long denied the scale of the bloodshed at Srebrenica — then a United Nations-protected enclave — although two international tribunals have described it as genocide.

The disagreement over the text revived divisions from the Balkan wars when Russia sided with ethnic Serbs and Serbia, while Western countries supported Bosnian Muslims and Croatia.

Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Petr Iliichev had described the UN draft as “divisive” and said it focused on just “one part of the conflict”.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has accused Britain of trying to “register at the UN, on the basis of false declarations and reports, that a genocide was committed against Muslims”.

– ‘Ready for reconciliation’ –

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday said he would attend the commemorations this weekend in a bid to forge reconciliation, but stopped short of admitting any national guilt for the killings.

“It is time to show that we are ready for reconciliation and that we are ready to bow our head before other peoples’ victims,” Vucic told reporters.

“I will go proudly and represent Serbia… which is able to admit that some individuals committed crimes,” he said. “We condemn each one of these horrible crimes and will sentence each of these criminals.”

Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic overran the UN-protected safe haven of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, in what was to become one of the darkest chapters of a war that left 100,000 dead.

Mladic’s troops brushed aside the UN’s lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers, loading thousands of Muslim men and boys onto trucks before executing them in a nearby forest and burying them in mass graves.

The international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have both ruled that the massacre at Srebrenica was a genocide.

The draft UN resolution due to be put to a vote on Wednesday stressed the need for “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation”.

“Genocide is a crime and those who committed it are criminals who should be punished as such,” British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft wrote in a letter to Mladen Ivanic, the Serb chairman of the Bosnian presidency.

“To say so is not ‘anti-Serbian,’ as some have alleged.”

Russia had floated its own draft, which Iliichev said was “more reconciling,” but the text made no mention of the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide and it was not put forward for a vote.