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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbia On Trial for Bosnian Genocide

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Bosnia accused Serbia and Montenegro of taking non-Serbs on a "path to hell" in the 1992-95 Bosnian war as the highest UN court opened its first hearings Monday into state-sponsored genocide.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, also known as the World Court, opened the case 13 years after Bosnia sued the rump Yugoslav state from which it seceded in 1992, triggering a war in which at least 100,000 people were killed.

"The armed violence which hit our country like a man-made tsunami in 1992 ... destroyed the character of Bosnia and Herzegovina and certainly destroyed a substantial part of its non-Serb population," Bosnia lawyer Sakib Softic told the court.

"The Belgrade authorities have knowingly taken the non-Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina on a path to hell, a path littered with dead bodies, broken families, lost youths, lost future, destroyed places of cultural and religious worship."

The hearings at the court, set up after World War II to mediate in disputes between states, are set to run until May 9. A binding ruling is expected by the end of the year. If Bosnia wins, it could seek billions of dollars in compensation.

Bosnia's Muslims and Croats followed Slovenia and Croatia in breaking away from Yugoslavia in April 1992, against the wishes of Bosnian Serbs, who were left as a one-third minority in what had previously been a Yugoslav republic ruled from Belgrade.

Backed by the Yugoslav army, the Serbs responded by swiftly capturing two-thirds of Bosnia, besieging Sarajevo and launching "ethnic cleansing" in which tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.

Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said the court hearing would hurt relations in the Balkans.

"This is not about the truth, this is about $100 billion of war reparations," he told broadcaster B92. "I think that this is all playing with fire, and that it would be much better if the Bosnian side agrees to accept our initiative for a diplomatic solution." Serbia, which questions the court's jurisdiction in the case and has delayed proceedings for years with a series of counter claims, will have its chance to respond from March 8.

The UN war crimes tribunal, not far from the ICJ in The Hague, has already determined that the 1995 Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, was genocide. That tribunal is also trying former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Bosnia's lawyers at the World Court will draw on evidence from that and other trials at the tribunal.

Survivors of the Bosnian war demonstrated outside the World Court, displaying a banner with the names of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre under the slogan "Europe's shame."

This is the first case in which a state is on trial for genocide, which was outlawed in a UN convention in 1948 after the Jewish Holocaust during World War II.