updated 6/11/2004 6:57:26 PM ET 2004-06-11T22:57:26

Bosnian Serb officials have acknowledged for the first time that their security forces carried out the massacre of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica, according to an investigative report Friday.

An official commission looking into Europe’s worst massacre since World War II “established participation of (Bosnian Serb) military and police units, including special (police) units” in the deaths, international administration spokesman Vedran Persic told The Associated Press, quoting from the commission’s report.

During the height of the Bosnian war, Serb troops overran a U.N.-declared safe zone in Srebrenica and slaughtered up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The killing was the worst civilian massacre on European soil since World War II.

The Bosnian Serbs have long been blamed for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, has called it an act of genocide. But until now, no Serb official has clearly acknowledged that Bosnian Serbs were the perpetrators.

Quoting from the report, Persic, a spokesman for Paddy Ashdown, Bosnia’s international administrator, said the commission discovered “that in July 1995, several thousand Muslims were liquidated in a way that represents grave violations of international humanitarian law.”

So far, U.N. and Muslim experts have found the remains of about 5,000 of the victims.

The Srebrenica Commission was formed last year by Ashdown to investigate who was involved in the massacre and where victims’ bodies were buried. It’s composed of Bosnian Serb judges and lawyers, a victims’ representative and international expert.

The report said that the perpetrators of the massacre “undertook measures to cover up the crime by moving the bodies” to other locations, said Persic.

The Bosnian Serbs had long refused to acknowledge that their forces committed atrocities in Srebrenica and to name the perpetrators. The work of the Srebrenica Commission, too, initially was obstructed by some of its members and authorities who refused to provide information.

Only after Ashdown fired several Bosnian Serb officials and threatened others with dismissal was information made available.

Under the 1995 peace accord that ended the war, Ashdown has the power to impose laws and to fire officials who fail to comply with the peace process. The same agreement also divided postwar Bosnia into two mini-states, a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.

Persic said Ashdown welcomed the report, saying that “a dynamic of obstructionism on war crimes issues is being replaced by a dynamic of greater cooperation” on the part of Bosnia’s Serbs.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader, has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal for genocide in connection with the Srebrenica massacre, along with his wartime top general, Ratko Mladic. Both remain at large.

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