The United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague described the killings as "one of the bloodiest acts of the war in former Yugoslavia, involving crimes of unprecedented cruelty against the Bosnian Muslim population".
The move did not appear to affect rising hopes that a peace agreement might be reached in talks in Dayton, Ohio over the weekend. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, is cutting short an Asian trip to put his "full weight" behind the peace effort.
The indictments relate to events after Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-declared "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in July. Muslim men and boys of fighting age were separated from women and children, herded away and killed in what appears to have been the single largest slaughter of unarmed people in Europe since the Second World War.
"These crimes were committed by the Bosnian Serb forces under the control of Radovan Karadzic and under the command of Ratko Mladic, who was seen on several occasions in or outside Srebrenica where systematic mass killings took place," said a spokesman for the tribunal. Evidence indicated that more than 100 Muslims had been slowly killed by Serb soldiers with knives, while the bodies of several thousand others were buried in mass graves.
A former Dutch peace-keeper yesterday accused the UN of allowing the Serbs to commit war crimes in Srebrenica, telling a Croatian magazine that it did not even prevent local UN employees being killed.
In July the tribunal charged Mr Karadzic and Gen Mladic with crimes against civilians throughout Bosnia, including the sniping campaign against Sarajevo residents, and of taking UN peace-keepers hostage and using them as human shields. But bringing them to trial may not be easy. Believed to be somewhere in Bosnian Serb territory, they have almost completely disappeared from public view since the Ohio talks opened two weeks ago.Reuse content