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UN resolution to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia sparks opposition from Serbs

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.N. resolution sponsored by Germany and Rwanda to establish an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs has sparked protests and a strong lobbying campaign against its adoption by Serbia’s president and the Bosnian Serb leadership.

The U.N. General Assembly has scheduled a debate on the resolution on the morning of May 23 to be followed by a vote in the 193-member world body.

The final draft of the resolution would designate July 11 as the “International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenca,” to be observed annually starting in two months. The massacres started on July 11, 1995.

The draft asks the United Nations to prepare an outreach program and invites countries, organizations, civil society and others to observe the day with “appropriate education and public awareness-raising activities” in memory and honor of the victims.

The Srebrenica killings were the bloody crescendo of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a U.N.-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s highest tribunal, determined in 2007 that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, and the court’s determination is included in the draft resolution. It was Europe’s first genocide since the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, which killed an estimated 6 million Jews and people from other minorities.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Antje Leendertse said there is an official U.N. commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide on April 7 every year — the day the Hutu-led government began the killing of members of the Tutsi minority and their supporters. The draft resolution aims “to close the gap” by creating a separate U.N. day “to commemorate the victims of Srebrenica, in time before the 30th anniversary in 2025,” she said in an statement to AP on Thursday.

“The resolution has the support of a large cross-regional group and provides an opportunity to reaffirm the shared commitment of the UN membership to international law and the international judicial order,” Leendertse said.

Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic as well as the Bosnian Serb leadership have vehemently opposed the adoption of the Srebrenica resolution, saying it brands all Serbs as a “genocidal nation” although the draft does not mention Serbs as culprits.

Vucic and his government have been campaigning both at the U.N. and among developing countries to win support for a “No” vote. They say they have already gained a majority against the resolution. Approval requires a majority of those voting.

Serbian diplomat Marko Đurić, who became foreign minister in early May, told a U.N. Security Council meeting on April 30 that Serbia has consistently condemned the “horrific” Srebrenica massacre and other crimes committed during the civil war.

But he said the resolution, drafted in secret, is divisive and called for it to be withdrawn and replaced by a resolution honoring all victims of the civil war — whether Muslim Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs.

“The war in former Yugoslavia began by exploiting longstanding grievances — this must not be our legacy,” he said. It is time to draft a new resolution that will lead the region “to the future — reconciliation, collaboration and friendship, development and prosperity.”

Vucic as well as Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik have mentioned several times the possibility of having to pay war damages if the resolution is adopted. Local analysts say Serb leaders, including Vucic, also fear they could be put on trial for active participation in the bloodshed.

The draft resolution condemns “without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event.” It also “condemns without reservation actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.”

Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian Serb wartime officials to lengthy prison terms.

However, most Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials still celebrate Karadzic and Mladic as national heroes. They continue to downplay or even deny the Srebrenica killings, which has deeply offended relatives of the massacre victims and survivors.

At a meeting with Dodik in Budapest on Wednesday, Hungary Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said his country will vote against the resolution. He called the genocide the “Srebrenica tragedy” and said the resolution “intentionally or unintentionally would demonize the entire Serbian nation” and inflame tensions in the surrounding region.

The upcoming vote was also raised at a regular U.N. Security Council meeting on political and economic developments in Bosnia on Wednesday.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said that “Dodik’s dangerous actions and secessionist rhetoric threaten peace and stability in the region” and “genocide denial also prevents reconciliation.”

“Commemorating historical truths and accepting facts is important and moves the region forward on a path towards reconciliation,” Wood said. ”And honoring the victims of genocide reinforces the values reflected in the U.N. Charter.”

But Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country has strong ties to Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, said the introduction of the resolution without the consent of all Bosnian parties was a violation of the country’s constitution and the 1995 Dayton peace agreement which ended the war.

“We view this provocative text as a threat to peace and security in the country and in the region as a whole,” he said, accusing Germany and Rwanda of sparking protests instead of promoting reconciliation.

Chinese Deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang reiterated Beijing’s call for the sponsors to engage with key parties and member states to reach consensus on the draft resolution. He said there are still “major differences” and “forcing it through is inconsistent with the spirit of promoting reconciliation” within Bosnia and among countries in the region.

Germany and Rwanda have said they would seriously consider proposals by Serbia to change the text.

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This version corrects a typographical error in the 12th paragraph that mispelt the Serbian president’s last name.

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Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade and Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary, contributed to this report.

By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press

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