Belgrade: Serbian police detained eight men Wednesday suspected of taking part in the 1995 killing of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the first arrests by Serbian authorities over Europe`s deadliest atrocity since World War II.
The men identified only by their initials allegedly participated in the execution of about 1,000 Muslims in a single day at a warehouse in the eastern Bosnian town of Kravica near Srebrenica.
In total some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed and their bodies dumped in mass graves during the Srebrenica massacre, which became a symbol of the horror of the 1990s Balkan wars that erupted when the former Yugoslavia split apart.
"This is the first case in which our office is dealing with mass killings that were directly part of the Srebrenica massacre," said Bruno Vekaric, the spokesman for the war crimes prosecutor`s office.
"The arrests are a message that neither Srebrenica victims nor war crimes perpetrators will be forgotten," Vekaric told AFP.
Victims at the Kravica warehouse were caught when fleeing through a forest and then executed by Bosnian Serb police and military, who packed them into the building and began shooting and throwing in grenades, according to previous court hearings.
Previous prosecutions in connection with the Srebrenica killings have been staged by either the Bosnian authorities or the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The eight are suspected members of the Bosnian Serb "Jahorina" special police unit, a dozen of whose members have already been sentenced in Bosnia over the Kravica killings.
The unit`s commander Nedeljko Milidragovic is among those detained Wednesday, a source close to the probe told AFP. Nicknamed "Nedjo the Butcher," he became a successful businessman in Serbia after the war, local media reported.
The detention of seven men was announced in the morning, the eighth was detained during the day, Vekaric added.
Bosnia`s war crimes prosecutor hailed Wednesday`s arrests as the result of "cooperation between the two countries` prosectors, and exchange of information and evidence on suspects living in Serbia".Hatidza Mehmedovic, chair of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, said the arrests had come "too late".
"They (the suspects) have not hidden in Serbia, they lived freely for 20 years after they had committed these crimes. I believe that is already a reward," Mehmedovic told AFP.
Prosecutors were continuing a search for several other war crimes suspects believed to be in neighbouring countries, a statement said.
The killing began after Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic in July 1995 sidelined lightly-armed UN peacekeepers from the Netherlands who were overseeing a so-called "safe area" near Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered for protection.
Bosnian Serb wartime political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Mladic are currently on trial before the ICTY for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, some related to Srebrenica. Both were detained by the authorities after years on the run.
The ICTY has charged 20 people in all in connection with the Srebrenica killings and several have been handed stiff sentences.
Remains of Kravica victims have been found in at least three mass graves, according to the prosecutor.
The killings were ruled to be genocide by the ICTY and the UN`s top court, the International Court of Justice.
In 2007, four members of the Serbian paramilitary Scorpions unit were sentenced in Serbia to between five and 20 years each for their part in six individual killings at Srebrenica.
Bosnia`s 1992-1995 war between its Muslims, Croats and Serbs claimed some 100,000 lives and uprooted 2.2 million people.