Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on Thursday apologised for the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica but again questioned whether it constituted genocide.
Mr. Nikolic angered neighbouring and western countries a year ago when he denied that the killings in Srebrenica were genocide.
In an interview with the Bosnian television BHRT he said that “genocide needs to be proved.” Pressed by the host that the mass killings and deportations had all the marks of a genocide, Mr. Nikolic said “everything that had happened [during wars] in the former Yugoslavia had marks of genocide.”
“I kneel, ask forgiveness for Serbia and the crime in Srebrenica,” he said. “I apologise for any crime carried out in the name of our state and our people.” Only the trailer of the interview, which was scheduled for airing on May 7, was available.
Bosnian Serbs, who were backed by Belgrade, entered the U.N.-protected Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995. Soldiers separated able-bodied men from the rest of the residents and killed about 8,000 of them.
Women, children and the elderly were deported.
The U.N. International Court of Justice ruled in a 2007 verdict that the killings were genocide carried out by the Bosnian Serb Army, but stopped short of condemning Serbia for them.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik hinted that he was unhappy with Mr. Nikolic’s statement, but refused to criticise it directly.
“I am sure that every citizen of the Serb Republic (the Serb part of Bosnia) and Serbia will have thoughts about what was said, but it would not be good to open a public discussion,” he told Bosnian TV.
Mr. Nikolic, a former far-right nationalist who toned down his rhetoric before winning the presidential election a year ago, repeatedly challenged the ICJ ruling after taking office.
That strained Serbia’s relations with Bosnia and Croatia, both of which had to fight ethnic Serb forces armed by Belgrade during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The European Union had condemned his remarks on Srebrenica from June 2012 as “unwelcome.” Mr. Nikolic’s apology was welcomed by Kosovo’s top diplomat Enver Hoxhaj, who however said that Kosovo is also owed an apology for crimes of Serbian armed forces in their heavy-handed crackdown on the ethnic Albanian population during an insurgency in 1998-99.
“The apology of the Serbian President for war crimes in Bosnia is important. He should also apologise for war crimes committed under the auspices of the Serbian state in Kosovo,” he tweeted.