Serbia demands investigation after ‘deplorable’ attack on PM at Srebrenica

Bodyguards use umbrella to protect Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic during unrest at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2015. (Reuters/Antonio Bronic)
Belgrade has submitted an official note of protest and demanded an investigation after prime minister Aleksandar Vucic was attacked during a commemoration of the massacre in Srebrenica two decades ago.

"Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has shown by his presence the readiness to bow his head to Srebrenica victims and stepped forward to improve relations both with the region and the whole country. We expect public condemnation from officials of Bosnia and Herzegovina ofSerbia's prime minister's attempted assassination," said the diplomatic note.

Vucic, a former hardline nationalist who has softened his stance in recent years, was forced to escape the ceremony, centered on the interment of 136 victims of the massacre, after a Bosnian Muslim crowd holding banners began to pelt him with stones and bottles.

The politician, who had his glasses broken by a stone that hit him in the face, said the incident was “pre-meditated.”

The tri-partite Bosnian government expressed the "deepest regret" over the assault, saying Vucic had come "in the spirit of reconciliation and with the intention of paying respects."

"Those who provoked today's incident did not just attack Vucic, they also desecrated the religious burial of the victims and embarrassed Bosnian Muslims," said a statement from Bosnia’s leading Muslim party, SDA.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who was present at the ceremony, branded the attack "a deplorable act of violence, far removed from the spirit I felt at this dignified and solemn commemoration." The White House and the Council of Europe also condemned the outbreak of violence.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Human Rights Ombudsman Konstantin Dolgov noted that the Saturday attack on the Serbian delegation signifies that the peoples of former Yugoslavia have not yet reconciled their differences with one another.

“Politicized steps by the West in the United Nations are not helping this cause [of Yugoslavian reconciliation,]” Dolgov tweeted.

The ugly incident underscores the lingering divisions in the Balkans over the deadly wars of 1992-95, which claimed at least 135,000 lives. The Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by the forces of General Ratko Mladic, was a definitive episode of Serbian atrocities during the hostilities. A UN court defined it as genocide, but Serbia, while condemning the killings themselves, has never accepted the definition.

Police detain a protester during unrest at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2015. (Reuters/Stoyan Nenov)

The division was highlighted earlier this week, when Serbia's ally Russia vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution. It sought to declare the Srebrenica massacre a genocide and condemn the denial of it, saying it would be counterproductive, citing a lack of consensus over the event in the Balkans. Moscow's move was criticized by some UNSC members such as Britain, but Belgrade praised it, saying Russia prevented an attempt to smear Serbs as a genocidal people.

READ MORE: All Srebrenica massacre culprits must be punished – Moscow

The Serbs complain that while their atrocities during the Balkan wars are brought into the spotlight, those committed by Croats and Albanians against Serbs are often hushed up.