Police in Serbia have arrested eight men suspected of involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the country's first arrests alleging direct participation in the massacre of Muslims in the town in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A joint team of Serbian and Bosnian prosecutors said the men who were arrested on March 18 are accused of taking part in the killing of more than 1,000 Muslims at a warehouse on the outskirts of Srebrenica in July 1995.
The men, identified only by initials, were said to be members of a Bosnian Serb wartime special police unit and "are suspected to have committed war crimes against the civilian population," prosecutors said in a statement.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the eastern Bosnian enclave by the Serbs in 1995, the only atrocity in Europe to be labeled genocide by the United Nations since World War II.
The prosecutors said they were searching for more suspects in Serbia and in neighboring countries.
In Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told journalists that the arrests showed that Serbia is "honest in the determination to expose and punish all perpetrators of war crimes."
"We would like no country in the Balkans to be a sanctuary -- a safe haven for any fugitive who would hide in any of these countries to avoid culpability," he added.
In 2011, Serbia arrested Ratko Mladic, the warlord who masterminded the slaughter, and sent him to an international criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Serbia has also tried men who took a group of prisoners away from Srebrenica to be killed.
But it had not arrested anyone suspected of bloodying their hands in he massacre that defined the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
"It is important to stress that this is the first time that our prosecutor's office is dealing with the mass killings of civilians and war prisoners in Srebrenica," Bruno Vekaric, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor and the lead Serbian prosecutor in the case, said.
Vekaric said Serbia was approaching a key moment in confronting its past. "The message that has been sent -- the victims of Srebrenica have not been forgotten, the perpetrators have not been forgotten either...."
"It is very important for Serbia to take a clear position toward Srebrenica through a court process," he added.
The AP news agency reported that the most prominent suspect arrested was Nedeljko Milidragovic, a commander dubbed "Nedjo the Butcher" who after the war became a successful businessman in Serbia.
The collaboration by prosecutors from former wartime enemies Serbia and Bosnia is supported by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
With reporting by AP and AFP