SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Women wept Monday as they finally buried husbands and sons 10 years after Europe’s worst massacre since World War II — funerals made possible by the excavation of mass graves of victims killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
An extraordinary gathering of 30,000 people — including the president of Serbia — came to Srebrenica to mark the anniversary and honor the dead at a memorial cemetery across from an abandoned car battery factory that was the wartime base for Dutch U.N. soldiers.
The Dutch were supposed to protect Srebrenica — a designated U.N. safe zone— from Serb attacks during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. But outmanned and outgunned, the Dutch mission watched as Srebrenica’s men and boys were separated from the women and led away, to be slain and dumped into shallow graves that are still being discovered a decade later.
To the sound of Muslim prayers echoing across a sprawling green valley, family members wandered among 610 caskets of the most recently identified victims of the July 11, 1995, massacre, in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.
Many names, bitter tears
After a religious service, the caskets were passed from hand to hand toward the graves and buried beside 1,330 existing graves. The sound of dirt striking the coffins and the weeping of women mingled with a voice reading the names of victims.
Fatima Budic huddled Monday over the coffin of her 14-year-old son Velija before the burial, alone in her grief.
“They killed my entire life, and the only thing I want now is to see the guilty ones pay for it,” sobbed Budic. Her husband and 16-year-old son have never been found.
World leaders offered apologies Monday for the inaction of the international community. They called for the arrest of the top war crimes fugitives, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic, and their extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
'Our greatest shame'
The worst crime to take place in Europe in the latter part of the twentieth century took place here. The world’s failure to protect the people of this country and the people in Potocari in particular is our greatest shame,” said Bosnia’s top international official, Paddy Ashdown.
“It is the shame of the international community that this evil took place under our noses,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. “I bitterly regret this and I’m deeply sorry for it.”
On a fence, families of the victims hung a huge banner with their own count of the dead. It read: “Europe’s shame — genocide. 8,106 murdered in Srebrenica.”
‘Mother, sister ... where are you?’
The ceremony opened with the Bosnian anthem and the raising of the Bosnian flag followed by a choral performance of “Srebrenica Inferno,” a song written for the anniversary that tells of a dead boy speaking to survivors.
“Mother, sister, I can’t find you, where are you?” the choir sang, as women in the crowd wept.
“The crimes that were committed here were not simply murders,” said Theodor Meron, president of the U.N. war crimes court. “They were targeted at a particular human group with the intent to destroy it. They were so heinous that they warrant the gravest of labels: Genocide.”
There was no visible presence of Bosnian Serbs at Monday’s service, although Bosnian television aired it live.
It was also carried live in Serbia, which confronted the horrors of Srebrenica for the first time only recently when a videotape showing the slaying of six men and boys in Srebrenica shocked residents, who had been largely uninformed about atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb troops.
From a president, an act of remorse
Serbia’s President Boris Tadic attended the service — a significant gesture given Serbia’s political and military backing of the Bosnian Serbs during the war. He did not speak, but said earlier that his gesture should be considered an act of remorse to Srebrenica’s Muslims. He has also pledged to seek Mladic’s arrest.
In the nearby hamlet of Bratunac, Bosnian Serbs defended the actions of their troops and former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic — considered the main strategist of the Serb wartime offensive.
“The lavish Srebrenica commemorations are a major international plot against the Serbs,” said Milan Baljic, a former Bosnian Serb soldier. “Why does no one care about our dead? They killed us, we killed them. So what’s the difference?”
“Mladic and Karadzic are our heroes, and no one can do anything about it,” Baljic said.
International officials said the two most-wanted war crimes fugitives belong at the U.N. tribunal. Milosevic is on trial before the court.
Two at large
“The evil who committed those crimes still lurks here on those hills,” said the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper. “It must be destroyed.”
Richard Holbrooke, architect of Bosnia’s U.S.-sponsored 1995 peace agreement said justice and reconciliation between Serbs and Muslims cannot be complete without Mladic’s and Karadzic’s arrest.
“The Iraqi people helped Americans capture Saddam Hussein,” Holbrooke said. “Serbs are still sheltering Mladic and Karadzic.”
Mladic, who is believed to be hiding in Serbia, personally commanded the Srebrenica onslaught, saying at the time that the town’s capture was “my gift to the Serb nation” and revenge for the 500-year Turkish occupation of Serbia that started in the 14th century.
Some 250,000 people were killed in the war between Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, with the Srebrenica massacre becoming a symbol of the bloodshed’s brutality. About 16,500 bodies have been exhumed from more than 300 mass graves throughout the country.
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