Serbia’s nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic has personally apologised for the first time for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims.
“I kneel and ask for forgiveness for Serbia for the crime committed in Srebrenica,” Nikolic said on Thursday in an interview to be aired on Bosnian national television parts of which have been released on You Tube.
“I apologise for the crimes committed by any individual in the name of our state and our people,” he said in the interview.
Nikolic’s office confirmed to AFP news agency the authenticity of the statement.
Thousands of Bosnians, mostly Muslims, were killed by Serb soldiers during the Balkan War between 1992 and 1996.
After being elected last May, Nikolic caused a stir in the region by refusing to acknowledge that the massacre in the Bosnian enclave, was genocide, despite it being ruled as such by two international courts.
Nikolic at the time said “there was no genocide in Srebrenica”.
Until five years ago Nikolic was a top official of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, which has denied that Serb forces committed crimes during the Balkans wars.
Its leader Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial for war crimes before The Hague-based UN International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Bosnian Serb wartime political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are also currently on trial on genocide charges before the ICTY for their role in the massacre. Both the ICTY and the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, have found that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide.
While this marks Nikolic’s first apology on Srebrenica, Serbia has in the past expressed regret over the deaths.
In 2010, the Serbian parliament passed an historic declaration condemning the Srebrenica massacre in a gesture ending years of denial by Serbian politicians about the scale of the killings, but Nikolic at the time did not support the move.
Nikolic’s predecessor Boris Tadic also apologised to Srebrenica victims during a commemoration event in 2005.