BELGRADE • Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia has said that he would attend the 20th-anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre this weekend in a bid to forge reconciliation.
But at the United Nations, the Security Council postponed a vote recognising the massacre as genocide after Russia threatened to veto the draft text of the document.
The vote - led by Britain and which condemns the mass killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II - was not due to take place until late yesterday, Singapore time.
"It is time to show that we are ready for reconciliation and that we are ready to bow our head before other people's victims," Mr Vucic told reporters on Tuesday.
"I will go proudly and represent Serbia... which is able to admit that some individuals committed crimes," Mr Vucic said.
TIME TO MAKE PEACE
It is time to show that we are ready for reconciliation and that we are ready to bow our head before other people's victims. I will go proudly and represent Serbia... which is able to admit that some individuals committed crimes.
MR ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, Prime Minister of Serbia
"These people have names. We condemn each one of these horrible crimes and will sentence each of these criminals," he promised.
The 15-member council was hoping to formally recognise the killings as an act of genocide for the first time this week, amid preparation for the anniversary of the massacre on Saturday.
The draft UN resolution stressed that the need for "acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation". Said a spokesman for the British mission after the vote was delayed twice on Tuesday: "This has been a difficult negotiation.
"Discussions have gone right to the wire. Given the significance of the anniversary, we're committed to getting the broadest level of support from council members.
"We hope this delay will allow us to do so."
Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have long denied the scale of the bloodshed in Srebrenica - then a UN-protected enclave - although two international tribunals have described it as genocide. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has accused Britain of trying to "register at the UN, on the basis of false declarations and reports, that a genocide was committed against Muslims".
Bosnian Serb leaders had lobbied Russia to block the draft UN resolution, arguing that it was "anti-Serb" because it focused on the killings in the final months of the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
Mr Vucic said he had received "guarantees" from Russian leaders that a resolution "accusatory" towards Serbia would be blocked.
Russia's deputy UN ambassador Petr Iliichev had described the UN draft as "divisive" and said it focused on just "one part of the conflict". Russia had floated its own draft, which Mr Iliichev said was "more reconciling", but the text made no mention of the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide and it was not put forward for a vote.
The disagreement over the text revived divisions from the Balkan wars when Russia sided with ethnic Serbs and Serbia, while Western countries supported Bosnian Muslims and Croatia.
Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, in what was to become one of the darkest chapters of a war that left 100,000 people dead.
His troops brushed aside the UN's lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers, loading thousands of Muslim men and boys onto trucks before executing them in a nearby forest and burying them in mass graves.
"Genocide is a crime and those who committed it are criminals who should be punished as such," British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft wrote in a letter to Mr Mladen Ivanic, the Serb chairman of the Bosnian presidency. "To say so is not 'anti- Serbian', as some have alleged."