Belgrade (AFP) - Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday urged his country to look to the future instead of "suffocating in tears of the past" after Ratko Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb military chief, was given a life sentence for genocide.
"We should start looking to the future, thinking about our children, peace, stability in the region," Vucic said, to ensure that "war and its horrors are not repeated."
There is a need to "revitalise factories, construct buildings, instead of suffocating in tears of the past," he said.
But Vucic also voiced regret that the UN court had not sentenced people suspected of war crimes against ethnic Serbs, despite "living witnesses" of the alleged crimes.
"We are capable of accepting our responsibility, but I'm afraid that the others are not. This shows our strength, not our weakness," he said.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague ruled Wednesday that Mladic must spend the rest of his life in prison over 10 counts including war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country's inter-ethnic war in the 1990s.
Vucic, once an ultranationalist and close ally of the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic -- who was also facing war crimes charges when he died in custody in 2006 -- has become a staunch pro-European liberal who hopes to bring Serbia into the EU.
Biljana Plavsic, a former Bosnian Serb president who was given an 11-year prison term for crimes against humanity by the UN court in 2003, said she was "scandalised" by the Mladic verdict.
"I'm scandalised by the fact that such an institution ignores justice and truth," she told AFP.
Plavsic, accused of playing a leading role in persecution against Croats and Muslims, is the only woman to be convicted by the UN court. She was released in 2009.
Her sentiment was shared by many other Bosnian Serbs, reflecting the deep divisions that remain 22 years after the bloody war ended.
"It is obvious that this is a project whose goal is to satanise the Serbian people," Milan Jolovic, a Bosnian Serb military veteran in Pale, near Sarajevo, told AFP.
"It will certainly reinforce the opinion of Serb people that general Mladic is a historical hero and a patriot, said Milorad Dodik, president of the autonomous Bosnian Serb region of Republika Srpska.
Vojislav Seselj, a Serb nationalist who was acquitted by the ICTY of charges he orchestrated the murder of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs, denounced the court as an "illegal and anti-Serb tribunal".
"They did not prove any link between Mladic and the events that he is charged of," he told AFP.