The Bosnian Serb government has admitted for the first time that Bosnian Serb forces were responsible for the mass slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica in July, 1995, Europe's worst atrocity since the end of the Second World War.
The details about the massacre of 7,500 men and boys by Bosnian Serbs in the UN-protected Muslim enclave of Srebrenica were revealed on Monday night by a local television station in the Bosnian Serb capital, Banja Luka.
The station obtained a copy of a secret government report on Srebrenica, compiled under pressure from Paddy Ashdown, the top international official for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Analysts believe the government's admission could prepare the population for the possible arrest of the Bosnian Serb war hero, General Ratko Mladic. He has been indicted for genocide for the Srebrenica massacre by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and is thought to be in hiding in Serbia.
For many Serbs in Bosnia this might mean finally coming to terms with their past on the road to reconciliation after the 1992-95 war that took the lives of more than 200,000 people, the majority of them Muslims.
Official propaganda has always denied that any war crimes were committed in Srebrenica, and for many Bosnian Serbs the television report was the first time they had heard that "in the period between 14 and 17 July, a large number of Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims], captured in Srebrenica, were taken to different locations of Zvornik municipality, where they were detained".
The report did not mention the exact number of detainees, and did not specify who gave orders for the massacre or how many men were executed. However, it revealed that the code name for the Srebrenica operation was "Krivaja 95". Krivaja is a small town and a river in central Bosnia. The report named five detention centres where men were held - the farming centre of Vranjevo, schools in Orahovac, Teskovci and Rodjevici, and a cultural centre in Pilici.
A large number of Bosnian Muslims were executed nearby, the report said, and their bodies buried in the villages of Petkovici, close to the Drina river dam, Kozluk, Branjevo and Orahovac.
"There is evidence that the mass graves were dug up and relocated," the report said, confirming what is already well known outside the country.
The television station reported that more than 30 civilians, soldiers and policemen testified about the war crimes in Srebrenica. The investigation was undertaken by the military, police and intelligence service of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The report quotes witnesses who were ordered to remove bodies from makeshift graves to other locations, long after the massacre.
The orders for relocation came from Colonel Ljubomir Beara, a prominent Bosnian Serb army officer, and aide to Mladic. Like Mladic, Beara is currently in hiding.
But many others have faced justice before the war crimes tribunal. The officer who is accused of leading the cover-up operation, Momir Nikolic, pleaded guilty as charged last week. Dragan Obrenovic, the deputy commander of the operation, has said he is sorry for his crime and has offered an apology to the families of victims before the tribunal.
"I'm guilty for what I did and did not do," Colonel Obrenovic told the court last week. "Thousands of innocent people were killed, only the graves remain ... Part of that is to be blamed on me".
Obrenovic reached a plea bargain with prosecutors in May and testified against his co-defendants last month. One of the commanders of the Srebrenica operation, General Radislav Krstic, has already been sentenced by the tribunal to 45 years in jail for genocide for his role in massacre.
But most of the public in Republika Srpska have been living in denial of the incident. The surrender of their war heroes to the tribunal and the sentences pronounced against them have been viewed as a conspiracy against Serbs, while memorial services for victims have been seen as a provocation by Muslims.
Earlier Bosnian Serb reports on the Srebrenica events stated: "Muslims who were considered to be missing after the fall of the enclave have made their way through enemy lines to Bosnian government territory."
Originally published at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bosnian-serbs-finally-admit-truth-of-srebrenica-deaths-734602.html
See also the depositions given with the guilty pleas of the two high-ranking Bosnian Serb officers who admitted to their participation in the planning and implementation of the Srebrenica massacre, and the subsequent burial and reburial of the victims' bodies:
Momir Nikolic, Chief of Intelligence and Security of the Bratunac Brigade during the Srebrenica executions in July 1995. May 6, 2003.
Dragan Obrenovic, acting commander of the Zvornik Brigade. May 20, 2003
See also the Final Report (June 11, 2004, Word document) of the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb) government Commission for Investigation of the Events In and Around Srebrenica Between 10th and 19th July 1995; and the Addendum (October 15, 2004, PDF file) to that report.
"The report itself admits and provides details of the plan and deliberate liquidation of thousands of Bosniaks [Muslims] by the Bosnian Serb forces," said Bernard Fassier, deputy to Bosnia's top international administrator. (As quoted by the Associated Press, Nov. 8, 2004.)