Serbia will file its own war crimes and ethnic cleansing complaint against Croatia after the International Court of Justice ruled it will hear Zagreb's genocide claim, Belgrade's Foreign Minister was quoted as saying Tuesday.
"Serbia will sue Croatia... and give it an opportunity to respond to (our) charges of war crimes and ethnic cleansing" committed against the Serb minority during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told Serbian state television.
The decision came after the UN's highest court ruled Tuesday it would hear a genocide claim lodged against Serbia by Croatia for alleged ethnic cleansing committed during the war.
Croatia lodged a complaint against Serbia, then known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), with the ICJ in 1999, claiming "a form of genocide which resulted in large numbers of Croatian citizens being displaced, killed, tortured, or illegally detained as well as extensive property destruction."
But Serbia argued before the court in May that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case over alleged crimes committed during the 1991-95 Croatian war that claimed some 20,000 lives.
A panel of 17 judges dismissed a Serbian challenge to the ICJ competence to hear Croatia's complaint, a date for which will now be set and may take years to reach finality.
Jeremic said he was "sorry" for Croatia insisting on the claim to be heard before the ICJ, adding that the two former Yugoslav republics "should turn to reconciliation... and our European future.
"But maybe it is the best way to finally establish the truth before the (UN) court over what has really happened during the operation 'Storm'," in Croatia, Jeremic said.
Serbia claims that more than 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia, while hundreds died during a 1995 Croatian military operation launched to regain territory held by rebel Serbs.
According to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), some 350 mainly old or ill people -- unable to flee towards Bosnia and Serbia -- were killed by Croat forces during the operation.
Other organisations put the death toll significantly higher.
Veritas, a Serbian documentation centre, estimates nearly 1,200 civilians were killed, while the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia said there were 680 civilian victims.
The ruling paves the way for only the second genocide case to be brought before the ICJ, Serbia also having been the subject of the previous claim filed by Bosnia.
But the ICJ last year cleared Belgrade of genocide in Bosnia during the break-up of the former Yugoslav federation.