The link between the former regime and the Bosnian war’s most notorious mass killing was made by an ex-officer, Momir Nikolic, during trials at the UN war crimes court in The Hague.

The Yugoslav government always denied having been involved in the atrocity, blaming Serb forces, but Nikolic told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that he had seen interior ministry forces both during the assault on the town and after its fall.

Nikolic was testifying against two other former Bosnian Serb officers, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic, who are both accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes for their alleged participation in the massacre.

In addition, Blagojevic is accused of genocide.

Unprotected

Some 7000 Muslim men and boys are believed to have been summarily executed in just a few days after Serb forces overran the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica on 11 July, 1995.

Nikolic told the tribunal that troops besieging the town had blocked aid convoys to make life unbearable for its Muslim residents.

They were defended only by a detachment of Dutch UN peacekeepers, who failed in their aim of turning Srebenica into a safe zone.

The trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes has been halted on health grounds.

A Dutch government was brought down by an official report over the conduct of the troops.

Nikolic said Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general who is still on the run from the tribunal, was present during various meetings planning the assault, and was behind the intimidation of the Dutch troops.

Nikolic, who was charged along with Blagojevic and Jokic, pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity, and was dispensed from the rest of the trial. He faces sentencing in the coming months.

Milosevic ill again

Meanwhile, the court cancelled hearings on Friday and those scheduled for Monday in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic due to the former Yugoslav president's ill health.

The former head of state, 62, suffers from high blood pressure and is thought to have a high risk of heart problems.

His trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes has often been halted on health grounds since it began on 12 February last year.

Milosevic is on trial for his role in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that broke up the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

The prosecution is due to finish presenting its case against the former president by the end of the year.

Milosevic has been given three months to prepare his defence case, which he will begin presenting to the court in the spring of next year. The trial is expected to last at least until 2005.