Sat, Jul 02, 2005 - Page 7 News List

UK fails in effort to use Srebrenica as symbol of progress


British attempts to use the upcoming anniversary of the worst war crime in the former Yugoslavia to unite all sides in the wars in mutual forgiveness have collapsed, receiving an angry rebuff from the Bosnian Muslim leadership.

The UK Foreign Office had been quietly circulating proposals in the Balkans, suggesting the leaderships of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia should issue a common declaration of "reconciliation and apology" in Srebrenica, where Serbs conducted a minutely planned massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males almost 10 years ago.

World and regional leaders are to gather at Srebrenica in nine days' time to mark the 10th anniversary of the worst crime in Europe since the Holocaust. The mass murder, which was the climax to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, is the sole officially decreed act of genocide in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

British diplomats appear to have badly misjudged the local mood, floating the notion of a common declaration aimed at healing wounds which, in the case of Srebrenica, remain fresh for the tens of thousands of relatives of the dead, many of whom have yet to locate their loved ones' remains.

"This is completely unacceptable," said Edin Dilberovic, foreign policy adviser to Sulejman Tihic, the co-president of Bosnia and leader of the Bosniak or Bosnian Muslim community.

"Srebrenica is the wrong place at the wrong time for a declaration of reconciliation and forgiveness. Srebrenica is special. It was a real, organized massacre. [The British] can't be serious," he said.

Officials in Bosnia and Croatia ascribed the proposal to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and said it had been floated a few weeks ago by British embassies in the Balkans.

"There's no formal proposal by Straw," a British source responded.

A senior Croatian official said he had been surprised when told of the idea.

"There are only two parties who could and should apologize in Srebrenica -- the Serbs and the Dutch," said Tomislav Jakic, foreign policy aide to President Stipe Mesic of Croatia.

Dutch peacekeepers stationed in Srebrenica in 1995 have been criticized for abandoning the Muslim enclave to the invading forces of the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic.

Mladic has been indicted for genocide and has been on the run from international justice for 10 years, along with his co-indictee, Radovan Karadzic.

"The [British] idea is that everyone should apologize to everyone else ... It's misrepresenting what happened," Jakic said.

A Bosnian official said the idea was "grotesque."

Srdjan Dizdarevic, the head of the Helsinki human rights committee in Bosnia, said: "This is absolutely stupid, totally unacceptable that on the 10th anniversary there should be forgiveness for everything."

The Serbian parliament has refused to adopt a declaration denouncing the Srebrenica massacre.

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