November 11, 2015 / 1:31 PM / in 2 years

Serbian PM lays flowers for 1995 massacre victims in Srebrenica

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Serbia’s premier visited the cemetery for Bosnian Muslim victims of a 1995 Serb massacre in Srebrenica on Wednesday, four months after protesters chased him out of town when he tried to attend a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the wartime atrocity.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (C) arrives for an official ceremony at the Memorial Center Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The appearance by Aleksandar Vucic, who was a hardline Serb nationalist during the bloody 1990s break-up of Yugoslavia, reflected improving relations between Serbia and Bosnia since then as well as Serbian ambitions to join the European Union.

Accompanied by top Bosnian government officials and welcomed by survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, Vucic laid flowers at a joint cemetery for the more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

Police secured the memorial complex and helicopters hovered over Srebrenica, which was hosting an investment conference.

When Vucic showed up for a July ceremony marking 20 years since the massacre, which was Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two, a crowd hurled stones, bottles and insults at him, forcing him to flee the scene.

Vucic said on Wednesday he had come to support the development of Srebrenica, which is close to Bosnia’s border with Serbia, and improve relations both between Belgrade and Sarajevo and between Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs.

“I want Srebrenica to become the bridge of our cooperation,” he said. “Nobody can return brothers to their sisters or sons to their mothers, but we can make a different and better future.”

Srebrenica is now part of the Serb Republic, one of two autonomous regions in Bosnia - along with the Bosniak-Croat Federation - set up under the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the ex-Yugoslav republic’s ethnic war.

Bosniaks, who accounted for 75 percent of Srebrenica’s population before the 1992-95 war, now represent a third of its 11,000 residents. Half of the population is unemployed.

Vucic said the Serbian government had allocated 10 million Bosnian marka ($5.5 million) for development in Srebrenica.

“All citizens of Srebrenica, whether they are Bosniaks or Serbs, will be able to count on more work and better life,” Vucic said. “We want to spend the next 100 years in peace. This is our small contribution to our joint future.”

Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic, who is a Bosniak, said the Serbian government’s decision was “encouraging” and he expected Bosnia’s central and regional governments to follow the example.

“We did not expect funds of this magnitude,” Durakovic said, adding that 250 new jobs could be created.

Last week, Bosnia and Serbia held the first joint session of their governments, signing several agreements on cooperation in various fields and pledging to work to settle all outstanding issues between them.

(1$ = 1.826 Bosnian marka)

Additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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