By Aleksandar Vasovic
Serbia arrested eight men on Wednesday suspected of taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, the first such arrests in the ex-Yugoslav republic of accused gunmen in Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.
The men, arrested in several locations across Serbia, stand accused of executing more than 1,000 Muslim Bosniaks at a warehouse just outside Srebrenica, some of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in the area after it fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
“This is the first such case involving people directly suspected of taking part in the Srebrenica massacre,” Bruno Vekaric, Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor, told Reuters.
Vekaric said seven suspects had been arrested early on Wednesday and that the eighth had been apprehended later in the northern city of Novi Sad.
“He (the eighth suspect) is on his way to Belgrade … There are another five suspects still at large in the region, we are after them as well,” he said.
A United Nations court has ruled that the Srebrenica massacre, carried out over the course of several days after the fall of the U.N. ‘safe haven’, constituted genocide.
Bosnia’s prosecutor’s office welcomed the arrests, saying the operation had been coordinated between the two countries.
July will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre. Nearly 90 percent of the victims have been exhumed from mass graves and identified through DNA analysis.
The men will most likely stand trial in Serbia, not at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, where high-profile leaders such as Serbia’s late president Slobodan Milosevic were tried.
The accused are former members of a Bosnian Serb interior ministry unit. An official involved in the investigation said they included unit commander Nedeljko Milidragovic, known as ‘Nedjo the Butcher’.
“He and others are suspected of bringing some 15 busloads of men from a prison camp in Srebrenica to Kravica, where they were summarily executed,” the official said. “They were first shot and then hand grenades were thrown.”
A total of around 100,000 people, the large majority of them Muslim Bosniaks, died in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war during the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia.
Serbia arrested Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and his military commander Ratko Mladic in 2011. Both are currently standing trial in The Hague for war crimes that include responsibility for Srebrenica, but Wednesday’s arrests marked the first time Serbia has gone after those who did the actual killing.
The arrests of Karadzic and Mladic largely unblocked Serbia’s bid to join the European Union, but Belgrade remains under pressure from the West to hold accountable those behind the war crimes committed during Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse