Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina: Serbia’s nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic on Thursday personally apologised for the first time for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims, but stopped short of calling it genocide.

“I kneel and ask for forgiveness for Serbia for the crime committed in Srebrenica," Nikolic said of the slaughter, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

“I apologize for the crimes committed by any individual in the name of our state and our people," he said in an interview to be aired on Bosnian national television, parts of which have been released on YouTube.

After being elected last May, Nikolic caused a stir in the region by refusing to acknowledge that the massacre in the Bosnian enclave—in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces—was a genocide, despite it being ruled as such by two international courts.

Nikolic at the time said “there was no genocide in Srebrenica".

Until five years ago Nikolic was a top official of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, which has denied that Serb forces committed crimes during the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

Its leader Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial for war crimes before The Hague-based UN International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

While this marks Nikolic’s first apology on Srebrenica, Serbia has in the past expressed regret over the deaths.

In 2010 the Serbian parliament passed an historic declaration condemning the Srebrenica massacre in a gesture ending years of denial by Serbian politicians about the scale of the killings, but Nikolic at the time did not support the move.

Nikolic’s predecessor Boris Tadic also apologised to Srebrenica victims during a commemoration event in 2005.

Both the ICTY and the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, have found that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide.

Bosnian Serb wartime political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are currently on trial on genocide charges before the ICTY for their role in Srebrenica massacre.

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