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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 00:08 GMT
Serbs' collective sigh of relief
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Grave markers
Thousands died in the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia
It came as a bit of a shock to many Serbs: an international court investigating events from the wars of the former Yugoslavia and actually coming down, albeit not unequivocally, on the side of Serbia.

"The judges have made the right decision. If it had gone against Serbia, it would have made our future so much more difficult, especially on our road to Europe," said Bojan Omerovic, 24, a student at Belgrade University.

"The verdict is OK. It's a step forward for a better future for Serbia. It means we can concentrate on other issues in the country. We don't even have a government yet from last month's general election," said 22-year-old Marija Ercic.

Almost immediately after the verdict, the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, went on national television to welcome the outcome.

But he also called on there to be a declaration by the Serbian Assembly, condemning the massacre at Srebrenica in which 8,000 Muslims were killed by Serb forces.

Mladic sought

The International Court of Justice confirmed that genocide had taken place at Srebrenica but blamed the Bosnian Serb military, rather than the authorities in Belgrade.

The military's former head, General Ratko Mladic, remains on the run and international investigators believe he is hiding somewhere in Serbia.

It is good that, in the end, the highest tribunal in the world has closed that page and I hope this will help the final reconciliation of the peoples of the Balkans
Javier Solana
EU foreign policy chief

Boris Tadic said there would be "dramatic economic and political consequences" if Serbia did not co-operate over the arrest of Gen Mladic.

A former Yugoslav Army soldier, Radojica Rajkovic, 70, said the court had made the right decision.

"Finally justice has opened its eyes. The verdict was the only one possible. There is finally light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. And we shouldn't forget who suffered the most in these wars, the Serbs," he said.

But it was not all light for Serbia. The court confirmed that genocide had been committed against Muslims at Srebrenica and it blamed Serb forces.

It also said Serbia violated international law by failing to use its influence with the Bosnian Serbs to prevent genocide.

The court said Serbia was fully involved in the conflict in Bosnia by "making its considerable military and financial support available" to the Bosnian Serbs, which appears to support the Bosnian government's argument that the events in Bosnia did not amount to a civil war but involved foreign aggression.

Srebrenica widows

Serbia's television news programmes trumpeted the fact that Serbia had not been found guilty of genocide. There was an almost audible sigh of relief that this was one court judgement that had appeared to go in favour of Serbia.

Bosnian women
Shock and sorrow as Bosnian war victims hear the ruling

Senior politicians immediately started talking about opening a new page in relations between Serbia and Bosnia and drawing a line under the past.

And international policy makers, ever conscious of the burning sore of Kosovo and its potential to destabilise the Balkans again, hoped this would be the end of the matter.

The EU's Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, said he hoped the court's verdict would "contribute to close the debates of a dramatic history".

"It is good that, in the end, the highest tribunal in the world has closed that page and I hope this will help the final reconciliation of the peoples of the Balkans," he said.

But that may be wishful thinking in the short term, especially for the widows of Srebrenica who continue to ask the question: where is Ratko Mladic and who is protecting him?

The court's president reads out the judgement

Profile: Serbia and Montenegro
05 Jun 06 |  Country profiles

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