Greek role in Srebrenica massacre investigated

Greece has launched a judicial inquiry to discover the extent of its involvement in the Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since the Second World War.

An Athens prosecutor announced a preliminary investigation to find what role Greek volunteers played in the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men, women and children in the UN enclave in Bosnia in 1995. With the 10th anniversary of the massacre on 11 July, and Bosnian Serb authorities admitting the extent of the massacre, any confirmed Greek involvement would embarrass Athens seriously.

Greece was a staunch ally of the Milosevic regime in the Yugoslav wars of succession in the 1990s but the presence of Greek paramilitaries fighting with Bosnian Serbs has not been fully investigated. The part played by the so-called Greek Volunteer Brigade in the assault on Srebrenica was widely reported in Greece at the time but veterans of the brigade have gone to ground since the formation of the war crimes tribunal that indicted the former Serb and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

Four members of the unit received medals of honour from the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, within a month of Srebrenica's fall.

A report in 2002 by the Dutch government - whose own armed forces, in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers, were heavily criticised for failing to protect civilians - describes how the unit raised the Greek flag in the town after the takeover.

It also cited video footage of the event and revealed that Greece sent arms shipments to the Bosnian Serb army in contravention of sanctions. The report detailed communications between the volunteer brigade and the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic - now wanted for alleged war crimes - in which he urged them to raise the Greek flag over the conquered enclave. In an intercepted phone call, General Mladic is heard telling them to record the flag-raising for propaganda purposes.

The investigation could be a watershed for Greece, which despite belatedly distancing itself from Mr Milosivec, now on trial at The Hague, has done little to acknowledge its own support for the worst excesses of Serb nationalism in the 1990s. The Greek government has previously ignored calls for an investigation into the public recruitment of its citizens into paramilitary brigades to fight in the Yugoslav wars. In what appeared to be a pre-emptive admission, the Greek Justice Minister, Anastasios Papaligouras, told parliament last Friday that Greeks may have participated in the slaughter but said they were not members of the armed forces.

An article run at the time in the Greek daily Ethnos newspaper on the "heroic" exploits of the volunteers in Srebrenica, prompted an overwhelming response from enthusiastic readers wanting to sign up to fight.

Takis Michas, whose book Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia, lifted the veil of silence on the issue said many would be shocked at Greek complicity in Bosnia: "What seemed incomprehensible during the Bosnia and Kosovo wars was not so much that Greece sided with Milosevic, but that it sided with Serbia's darkest side."

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