BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia arrested eight men on Wednesday suspected of taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, the first such detentions 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, are accused of killing 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.
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’, amounted to 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.
“It seems Serbia has finally woken up to the crimes in Srebrenica,” said Suhra Sinanovic, whose husband Muriz perished in the warehouse. His remains were found in two separate graves, evidence of how Bosnian Serb forces tried to conceal the crime.
The men will most likely stand trial in Serbia, not at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, where more high-profile leaders were tried.
The accused are former members of a Bosnian Serb interior ministry unit, including unit commander Nedeljko Milidragovic, known as ‘Nedjo the Butcher’, an official involved in the investigation said.
“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.”
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, helping to unblock its ongoing bid to the European Union.
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.
In 2007, a Serbian court convicted four Serbian paramilitary soldiers who videotaped their killing of six Bosniak youths around the same time as Srebrenica in southeast Bosnia, but the court at the time said there was no evidence to directly link the two events.
“The Scorpions case is separate from Srebrenica both in time and distance,” said Vekaric.
Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Heavens
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