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Court exonerates Serbia on genocide in Bosnia

BERLIN—Serbia wasn't responsible for the genocide against Bosnian Muslims in 1993 but it should have done more to prevent it, the International Court of Justice ruled Monday. The court laid the blame for the slaughter on ethnic Serbian separatists and said Serbia had provided them with aid and assistance.

The court's 15 judges, the United Nations' highest court and based in The Hague, Netherlands, voted by wide margins against holding Serbia—then called Yugoslavia—responsible for the deaths of at least 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995, a massacre that it earlier had ruled constituted genocide.

"The Court finds that the acts of those who committed genocide at Srebrenica cannot be attributed to (Serbia/Yugoslavia) under the rules of international law of State responsibility," the ruling read. The court also found "that it has not been established that those massacres were committed on the instructions, or under the direction of (Serbia/Yugoslavia) nor that (Serbia/Yugoslavia) exercised effective control over the operations in the course of which the massacres were committed."

The ruling ends a case that was first brought before the court by Bosnia in early 1993, before the Srebrenica massacre, and was expanded later to include it.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the reactions verged on shock. One member of the nation's tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic, told Bosian television: "Privately, I am disappointed. I do not know what caused this kind of a ruling. ... We must respect it, but I know what I will teach my child."

Another member of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian presidency, Haris Silajdzic, told local television that the decision would make mending relations with Serbia more difficult: "I think good neighborly relations can be developed only on truth and justice, and not denial of truth and genocide. Therefore there will be tensions in the beginning."

Across the border, ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic told Serb television the decision confirmed "what the whole world knew. Serbia didn't take part in any genocide."

Serbian journalist Dejan Anastasijevic, who covered the war, said the ruling was "perhaps better than anything Serbia could have expected."

He said there had been great concern in Serbia about the long-term effects of being the first nation ever found responsible for genocide. Such a finding "would have fueled a Serbian belief that the world is against us, caused us to circle the wagons. Now, with the suit out of the way, I believe we can improve relations with Bosnia."

Protesters outside the courthouse included the "Mothers of Srebrenica," who carried a banner listing the names of the victims of the genocide.

The assault against Bosnian Muslims occurred during the breakup of the multinational state of Yugoslavia, as Serbs, who are Christian Orthodox and were the most numerous of the nationalities, sought to construct a "Greater Serbia" in what had been republics dominated by other ethnic groups.

Slovenia and Croatia, both mostly Roman Catholic populations, declared independence in 1991, and Bosnia, where a plurality of the population was Muslim, pursued the same course after a referendum in 1992. With backing from rump Yugoslavia under President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serbs attacked Bosnian Muslims and Croats throughout Bosnia in 1992.

Bosnia had asked for billions in reparations, which the court rejected. But the court delivered strong criticism, noting that Serbia/Yugoslavia "did nothing to prevent Srebrenica."

However, the court wasn't convinced that "at the crucial time, (Yugoslavia) supplied aid to the perpetrators of the genocide in full awareness that the aid supplied would be used to commit genocide."

"In the view of the Court, the Yugoslav federal authorities should have made the best efforts within their power to try and prevent the tragic events then taking shape, whose scale might have been surmised."

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a televised statement Monday that there'd be "dramatic political and economic consequences" for ignoring suggestions in the ruling, which included turning over suspected war criminals.

"Today the name of Serbia was mentioned again in the context of war crimes and genocide in all world's media," he said.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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