updated 8/21/2006 10:00:21 AM ET 2006-08-21T14:00:21

The trial of seven Bosnian Serb military and paramilitary officers charged in the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica resumed Monday with the chief Yugoslav war crimes prosecutor calling them “among the most responsible” for the atrocity.

Carla Del Ponte also slammed Serbia for failing to arrest the man accused of masterminding the July 1995 slayings, former Bosnian Serb army chief Gen. Ratko Mladic.

“Mladic should be on trial in this case,” Del Ponte told The Hague-based court and said it was “inexcusable” that Serbia had not arrested him.

The trial is the tribunal’s latest attempt to hold senior officials responsible for the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in the U.N.-declared safe haven in eastern Bosnia as the war in that country reached a bloody climax.

“It is difficult, if not impossible to comprehend the horror inflicted on the inhabitants of the Srebrenica enclave,” Del Ponte said at the start of the mass trial that is expected to last more than a year.

“Defenseless men and boys (were) executed by firing squads, buried in mass graves and then dug up and buried again in an attempt to conceal the truth from the world,” Del Ponte said, adding that many victims were bound and blindfolded “to make the murder easier for the executioners.”

She called the massacre “the final phase of a comprehensive criminal plan to permanently erase the Muslim population of Srebrenica.”

Last week, forensic experts said they had exhumed the remains of more than 1,000 victims from a single mass grave near the village of Kamenica. Many of the victims had their arms bound with cloth or plastic. Bullets were found mixed with the bones.

Many of the skeletons were also badly damaged, an indication that the bodies were dug up from elsewhere and dumped into the so-called secondary grave as Bosnian Serb forces attempted to cover their tracks.

Two masterminds still at-large
The Hague-based court has staged only a handful of trials dealing with the Srebrenica atrocities, including the case against former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, which was aborted with his death in March.

The two men accused of masterminding the slayings — Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic — are still on the run.

Belgrade’s failure to capture Mladic — at large since 1995 despite a genocide indictment against him by the U.N. court — has led to suspension of its pre-entry talks with the European Union. That dealt a major blow to Serbia’s efforts at pro-Western reform and international integration following years of pariah status under Milosevic.

Belgrade has maintained it has been unable to locate Mladic, despite claims by the war crimes tribunal that the general is hiding there under protection from nationalist hardliners.

Mladic’s deputy, Gen. Radislav Krstic, is serving a 35-year prison term for aiding and abetting genocide, and Col. Vidoje Blagojevic is appealing his 18-year sentence for complicity in genocide.

The suspects in this latest trial are Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Drago Nikolic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Radivoje Miletic, Milan Vero and Vinko Pandurevic. They face allegations ranging from genocide to murder and persecution.

The suspects showed no emotion as they listened to a translation of Del Ponte’s words. She vowed they would not be the last to face justice for the Srebrenica genocide.

Mladic, Karadzic and others evading capture “will be arrested,” she said. “They will be brought to The Hague, and they will be tried for their crimes. This is our pledge to the international community and the women ... who mourn their losses and all victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.”

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