Bosnia buries hundreds at Srebrenica

2012-07-11 18:02
A woman mourns beside the coffin of her relative at the Potocari memorial complex near Srebrenica, some 160 kilometers east of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Marko Drobnjakovic, AP)

A woman mourns beside the coffin of her relative at the Potocari memorial complex near Srebrenica, some 160 kilometers east of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Marko Drobnjakovic, AP) (Marko Drobnjakovic)

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Srebrenica - Bosnians on Wednesday buried 520 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, with the two alleged masterminds of the slaughter finally on trial for genocide.

About 30 000 people were gathered at a special memorial centre in Potocari, just outside Srebrenica, for the mass funeral on the 17th anniversary of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.

After speeches and the Muslim prayer for the dead, people began hoisting the simple coffins covered in green cloth to carry them to the freshly dug graves. Clouds of red dust rose over the vast cemetery as relatives covered the caskets with earth under the sweltering afternoon sun.

"It is the pain, an endless pain, and when July 11 arrives, every year, this pain becomes unbearable," said Sevdija Halilovic, a woman in her 50s whose father was laid to rest on Wednesday alongside the 5 137 victims already buried there.

Mujo Salihovic, 30, had come to bury his father and one of his brothers, his other brother was already laid to rest in Potocari last year.

"I haven't told my mother that they will be buried today. She is sick and still believes they will return," he said tearfully.

"If I tell her, it would kill her. I cannot lose her, she is all that I have left".

It is the first anniversary being commemorated since the massacre's alleged architects, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic, went on trial before the UN war crimes court.

In all, around 8 000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in the eastern enclave, then under the protection of lightly-armed Dutch UN peacekeepers, in the only episode of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to have been ruled a genocide by international courts.

War crimes

World leaders rejected any moves to down play the scale of the massacre.

"The United States rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalise the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide," US President Barack Obama said in statement.

His remarks were a clear swipe at Serbia's new President Tomislav Nikolic, who said last month that the killings in Srebrenica constituted "grave war crimes" but not genocide.

"We must never forget the act of genocide that was committed in Srebrenica, nor should it ever be denied," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement.

But for many survivors and relatives in Srebrenica, the trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are too little, too late.

They fear Karadzic, 67, and Mladic, 70, could die before any verdict is delivered.

"They will drag the trials out for years. In the end, those two savages will die, like Slobodan Milosevic, and the Serbs will keep saying there was no genocide in Srebrenica," said Fatima Mujic, referring to the Serb strongman who perished in a UN cell in 2006 while on trial before the ICTY.

"It should be enough to come here and see the thousands of graves. If that is not proof, we should give up," 63-year-old Muniba Cakar who came to bury her husband said bitterly, gesturing at the thousands of simple white headstones around her.

Not guilty

The trial of Mladic, who led the attack on Srebrenica, resumed in The Hague this week with the first prosecution witnesses testifying, a little over a year since his arrest in Serbia after nearly 16 years on the run.

Karadzic is due to start presenting his defence in October. His trial opened in 2009 after he evaded justice for 13 years.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to genocide charges for masterminding the massacre and all other charges against them over the Bosnian war that left around 100 000 people dead.

So far 38 former Bosnian Serb military or police officials have been convicted, including some for genocide, for their role in the Srebrenica killings, both by the ICTY and Bosnia's own war crimes court.

In the past 17 years, the remains of 6 800 victims have been identified, but the search goes on.

Bosnian Serbs went to great lengths to hide the scale of the killings and returned months later to dig up bodies from mass graves and dump them in at least 28 so-called secondary grave sites.

The excavations continue to this day.

Read more on:    war crimes
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