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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 16:18 GMT
Belgrade apology for Bosnia war
Woman grieving at Srebrenica burial service
Thousands of women lost husbands, sons and brothers at Srebrenica
The president of Serbia-Montenegro has apologised to the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina for atrocities committed during the 1992-1995 war.

Svetozar Marovic issued the apology - the first by a Belgrade official - during a visit to the Bosnian capital.

"Individuals are guilty and they need to be held responsible," he said.

The Bosnia atrocities form part of the genocide charges at the trial in The Hague of former Serbian and Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

He is alleged to have helped the Bosnian Serbs in the war, but denies this.

Bosnia is also suing Belgrade at the International Court of Justice over the war which killed about 250,000 Bosnian citizens - more than 7,000 in a single incident at Srebrenica alone.

I want to use this opportunity to apologise for any evil or disaster that any one from Serbia and Montenegro caused to any one in Bosnia-Hercegovina
Svetozar Marovic
President of Serbia and Montenegro

Two months ago, Mr Marovic - a Montenegrin - and his Croatian counterpart both apologised for the actions of their citizens in the 1991-95 war between the two countries.

During the first post-war visit to Sarajevo three years ago, Mr Marovic's predecessor, Vojislav Kostunica, a Serb, had refused to issue a similar apology to Bosnia.

Looking forward

"I want to use this opportunity to apologise for any evil or disaster that any one from Serbia and Montenegro caused to any one in Bosnia-Hercegovina," Mr Marovic said after meeting Bosnia's three-man presidency.

"There were injustices, evil and killings, but we both need to be brave to say that we are ready to forgive and go forward."

He said the entire nation should not be made to suffer for crimes committed by individuals.

"With open arms to each other, we need to go forward together. I believe in a European future for both countries."

Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic denies having had any control over Bosnian Serbs
This was a highly symbolic statement of apology for what happened during Europe's bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II, says the BBC's Nick Hawton in Belgrade.

Before departing for Bosnia, the Belgrade leader was quoted as saying "the evil was committed by many sides" - a hint that he expected Sarajevo to reciprocate.

But the multi-ethnic Bosnian presidency has not done so.

Dragan Covic, the Croatian chairman of the collective body, welcomed the apology.

"We are encouraged and respect this," Mr Covic told reporters.

"The future is most important and this apology will help Bosnia's mental and physical pain to heal."

Citizens or states

Mr Marovic repeatedly sought to draw a distinction between the actions of Serbia and Montenegro - previously known as Yugoslavia - as a state, and individuals, however high positions those individuals may have occupied.

Svetozar Marovic (R) and Bosnia's representative in the presidency Suleiman Tihic
Bosnian Muslims might not be too impressed with an apology from a non-Serb
But while guilt may be an individual matter, broader responsibility is usually attached to institutions, often the state, says the BBC's regional analyst Gabriel Partos.

That is why democratic post-war Germany has been paying compensation to the victims of the Nazi Third Reich, he says.

Indeed, the reason why Mr Marovic is so careful in using his words is perhaps to avoid prejudicing his country's case before the ICJ, our analyst says.

Any admission of guilt on behalf of the state could be used in evidence against Belgrade by Sarajevo as well as Zagreb, which is suing on similar grounds.

Belgrade's cautious apology
13 Nov 03  |  Europe

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