Bosnia to bury hundreds at Srebrenica massacre site

AFP , Wednesday 11 Jul 2012

Bosnians prepare to bury 520 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Serbian troops slaughtered around 8,000 Muslim people, being ruled as a genocide by international courts

A Bosnian Muslim cries near coffins prepared for a mass burial at the Memorial Center near Srebrenica. (Photo: Reuters)

Weeping Bosnians prepared Wednesday to bury 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 a mass funeral on the 17th anniversary of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.

The 520 simple coffins covered in green cloth were lined up to be buried in freshly dug graves that dot the vast cemetery, alongside the 5,137 victims already in the ground.

"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 will be laid to rest Wednesday.

Weeping women and some men sat beside the coffins of their loved ones, as loudspeakers broadcast Muslim prayers.

"I haven't told my mother that they will be buried today. She is sick and still believes they will return," a tearful Mujo Salihovic, 30, who had come to bury his father and one of his brothers, told AFP.

"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 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.

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 the proceedings will be so drawn out that Karadzic and Mladic will be dead 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 said bitterly, gesturing at the thousands of simple white headstones around her.

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.

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.

Short link: