BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s legislators clashed Tuesday over whether to condemn the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, illustrating the divisions that still persist over the country’s war-torn past.
Serbia’s pro-western authorities have put forward a declaration that offers sympathy and apology to the victims, saying it would promote reconciliation in the region and help Serbia’s efforts to become a member of the European Union.
“The National Assembly of Serbia harshly condemns the crime committed against the Bosniak residents of Srebrenica in July 1995 … expressing condolences and apology to the victims’ families because not all was done to prevent this tragedy,” the proposed declaration says.
The legislators were expected to vote on it later Tuesday.
The declaration, however, met with strong opposition from Serbian nationalists, who called it “shameful” and “unjust.” They insisted fewer people were killed in Srebrenica and denied Western accusations of mass executions.
“Serbia will sign its own guilt with this declaration,” said Slobodan Samardzic, a nationalist deputy.
Velimir Ilic, another opposition lawmaker, asked: “Why do you want to put a mark on the future generations that they will never wash away?”
In Sarajevo, Bosniak victims also said they were unhappy with the declaration because it failed to call the killings a genocide, in accordance with rulings by international courts.
“Genocide was committed,” said Sabra Mujic, whose husband was killed in Srebrenica. “As long as we are alive, we will pass on to the future generations that it was genocide.”
The execution of Srebrenica’s men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops was Europe’s worst carnage since World War II. It has become a symbol of the atrocities of the Balkan wars.
EU officials have told leaders in Belgrade that they need to clearly distance themselves from the wartime policies of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, if they want Serbia to move closer to EU membership.
Serbia also must arrest ex-Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic who was charged with genocide by a U.N. court for orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre.
The parliamentary declaration on Srebrenica calls for the arrest of Mladic and urges authorities to do all they can to find him.
Meanwhile, former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is being prosecuted by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the Bosnian war, including the Srebrenica massacre.
Karadzic has refused to enter a plea, but insists he is innocent of charges that he ordered atrocities, including the shelling and sniping campaign that killed thousands of civilians in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the executions in Srebrenica.
In 2009, a European Parliament resolution condemned the Srebrenica massacre as genocide and called on the region to commemorate its July anniversary. The Hague-based International Court of Justice also has ruled that genocide was committed in Srebrenica, and that Serbia had not done enough to prevent it.
Pro-Western officials said the parliamentary declaration was a chance to clear Serbia’s name for future generations.
“Let us close the door of the tragic past and open the door to the future,” said Nada Kolundzija, of the governing pro-Western coalition. “We need to say that Serbia does not stand behind those who committed those crimes.”
Associated Press writer Aida Cerkez-Robinson contributed to this report from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.