Belgrade: Serbia's apology for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre is seen as the first and most difficult step on Belgrade's long road to face up to its role in the bloody 1990s wars that tore apart the Balkans.
"This is really the first step in reviewing the past from the highest authority in the state, the parliament of Serbia," said Ivan Vejvoda, the executive director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy.
"This resolution is a milestone in facing up to the recent past and has a decisive importance," Vejvoda told agency.
In a resolution voted early Wednesday the parliament said it "strongly condemns the crime committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica in July 1995, as determined by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling".
The lawmakers also formally extended "their condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything possible was done to prevent the tragedy".
Srecko Latal, a Sarajevo-based analyst of the International Crisis Group think-tank, said he hoped the declaration will be the first in a series of steps towards reconciliation in the Balkans.
"There were a lot of doubts about the declaration ... whether it was aimed at opening the doors to the European Union for Serbia or whether it reflected Belgrade's honest confrontation with the events of the last 20 years."
"In my view, every move forward is a positive one. I hope that this could be the first small positive step towards facing this region's past and the reconciliation of both states and peoples," Latal told agency.
Aleksandar Popov of the Igman Initiative, a regional non-governmental organisation working on reconciliation in former Yugoslavia, said the declaration was "the most that could be achieved at the moment considering the parties in the parliament."
"The declaration certainly satisfied the expectations of the international community but it also kickstarted the process of confronting the past," Popov said.
"The heated debate in the parliament shows that this process was irreversibly launched," he said.
The declaration was backed by 127 out of 173 members present in the 250-seat parliament, reflecting the deep divisions over the issue in Serb society.
The text was agreed after months of talks within the ruling coalition, especially between the pro-European Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic and the Socialist Party of Serbia, which was in power during the wars in the 1990s under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
As a concession to its coalition partners, Tadic's party agreed to start as early as Thursday a debate on another declaration that would condemn all crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and in particular against Serbs.
"Of course in the future we will need a lot of time to deal with this and it will be a long process for Serbian society but at this very moment we should mark the importance of what has happened," Vejvoda said.
The resolution proves that 15 years later "Serbia admits a crime that was committed on its behalf," he added.
Wednesday's vote "was the most difficult step but I am convinced that we will now open the process of reviewing recent history; this will be long and painful," ruling coalition MP Nenad Canak said.
While initial reactions from Bosnia were negative, with Bosnian Muslims slamming the text for saying too little while many Bosnian Serbs thought it said too much, observers still think it will ultimately help reconciliation.
"An important step in right direction has been made and it will significantly relax relations in the region," Popov told agency.
First Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 21:29