Serbian authorities have arrested at least eight men in connection with the murder of Muslims in Srebrenica after a video of the crime was shown at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
The Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said, after holding talks with the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, that "a number of suspects" had been arrested by yesterday for the "shocking crime".
Ms del Ponte was on a short visit to Belgrade, during which Serbian leaders promised to hunt down and arrest within a month General Ratko Mladic, who is wanted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague for the 1995 slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.
Ms del Ponte described the arrests as "a brilliant operation". "I'm particularly grateful for the reaction on the footage." But she added: "In a few hours they were able to identify the perpetrators. I asked this morning that they react as quickly to arrest the fugitives who are still at large," referring to General Mladic and the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.
The prosecution presented the videotape at the war crimes tribunal on Wednesday. It showed the execution of six Bosnian Muslim youths by members of the notorious paramilitary "Scorpions" unit of Mr Milosevic's secret police. The unit committed war crimes against non-Serb civilians in Bosnia, Croatia and in Kosovo.
Short clips of the video were shown on Serbian television on Wednesday night. It was taken by a man participating in the murders at Trnovo, 18 miles south of Sarajevo in Serb-held territory, after the fall of the Bosnian "safe haven" of Srebrenica. At one point in the footage, he claims that the battery of his camera is low. The man is told by one of the executioners to go on as long as he can.
The video begins with a Serbian Orthodox priest blessing paramilitaries before they go into battle. It ends with what looks like the same paramilitaries shooting the six civilian prisoners in the back, with machine guns. The young men appeared to have been severely beaten and had their hands tied behind their backs. The killers in the video are wearing the black uniforms of the Scorpions.
The Srebrenica massacre, the worst war crime in Europe since the end of the Second World War, remains a divisive subject for Serbs. Conservatives and nationalists have convinced the public that the crime is the invention of anti-Serb forces abroad with a recent survey showing that only half the population believe it happened. The same survey suggested that two-thirds of the public believedMr Karadzic and General Mladic were heroes.
But analysts say the airing of the video and the quick action of the authorities might be a prelude to the arrest of the two, which is the precondition for Serbia to start talks with the EU on an association agreement, due to open in October. Ms del Ponte wants General Mladic and Mr Karadzic to be arrested and extradited to The Hague by 11 July, the tenth anniversary of the massacre.
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