BELGRADE, Serbia — The landmark trial of eight former Bosnian Serb police officers charged with taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre started in a Serbian court on Monday with judges rejecting another postponement.
The judges also read out the names of 1,313 people who the suspects are accused of killing.
The long-awaited trial at the War Crimes Court in Belgrade is seen as a test of Serbia’s pledge to deal with its wartime past and an important step in Balkan reconciliation efforts more than two decades after the Bosnian war ended.
The proceedings are the first time that a Serbian court has dealt with the killing by Bosnian Serb troops of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, at the time a U.N.-protected enclave. It was Europe’s worst single atrocity since World War II.
A legal representative of the victims’ families, Nikola Cukanovic, said he expects the court to deliver “justice according to the law.”
Serbia, which armed and backed the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war, has promised to punish war criminals as it advances toward EU membership. The country’s nationalist government has faced criticism for stalling on that pledge.
The trial was supposed to start in December, but was postponed over defense demands to know the identity of protected witnesses interviewed by prosecutors.
On Monday, one of the defense lawyers demanded another adjournment, claiming the testimonies of protected witnesses — believed to be Bosnian Serbs who were in the firing squads — were illegal as they were given without the presence of defense attorneys.
“It is clear to anyone that the value of such evidence is misplaced and cannot be accepted by the court,” said defense lawyer Miroslav Petkovic.
The eight suspects are charged with participating in the killing of hundreds of Muslims in a warehouse in Kravica, a village outside Srebrenica, as they tried to escape the Serb onslaught.
More than 1,300 were crammed into the warehouse in the village and then killed with grenades and machine guns in a rampage that lasted all night.
Among the suspects is a special police unit commander, Nedeljko Milidragovic, also known as “Nedjo the Butcher,” accused of ordering and “organizing” the killings. The indictment says Milidragovic fired his pistol at those who still showed signs of life after the carnage.
The group was apprehended in 2015. They were later released despite the gravity of the charges.