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Sarajevans outraged by Serbian cross project

A Serb group has announced plans to build a huge memorial cross on a hill from which Serb artillery relentlessly shelled Sarajevo during the 1992-96 Bosnia war.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Serb group has announced plans to build a huge memorial cross on a hill from which Serb artillery relentlessly shelled Sarajevo during the 1992-96 Bosnia war.

The plan has outraged an association of war victims and Sarajevo's mayor, who condemned it on Wednesday as an insult to the thousands of people who died in the conflict, especially the many Bosnian Muslim victims.

Branislav Dukic, head of the Association of Bosnian Serb War Victims, on Wednesday confirmed media reports that his group plans to begin building the 85-foot cross on Trebevic hill in April in memory of Serb war victims.

"The initiative came from families of fallen soldiers and civilians for a monument to be built in memory of" Serbs who died in the conflict, he said in an interview with The Associated Press. The monument will be lighted at night so that it can be seen 24 hours a day, he said.

Trebevic Hill is in Bosnian Serb territory, but it overlooks Sarajevo, the Muslim-dominated capital.

Since the war, Bosnia has been divided in two mini states, one for the Orthodox Christian Bosnian Serbs and the other shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Roman Catholic Croats. The division line runs along the slope of Trebevic Hill. The upper half of the steep hill is Bosnian Serb territory and the lower part is in Sarajevo.

The cross would be built near the dividing line at a spot that dominates the city's center.

Another reason it has irritated Sarajevans is that religious symbols were frequently used during battles in the Bosnian war, in which 100,000 people were killed and 1.8 million became refugees.

During the conflict, Bosnian Serb forces kept Sarajevo under a tight siege, pounding the city with hundreds of shells a day, cutting off electricity and water supplies, and preventing food convoys from reaching the population.

'Illegal, immoral and shameful'
The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague has convicted two Bosnian Serb generals of war crimes for ordering the relentless shelling, sniping and indiscriminate terror in Sarajevo during the 44-month siege. The artillery position on Trebevic was one of the deadliest.

On Wednesday, the Sarajevo Association of War Victims criticized the plan to build the cross, calling it shameful to build the memorial in a location from which the Serb artillery pounded the city, killing thousands of people. The association issued a statement calling the planned monument a "provocation for the citizens of Sarajevo."

"It is an illegal, immoral and shameful act, especially because it will be erected in memory of Serb soldiers who kept the city under siege, committing crimes for which their commanders have received long prison sentences at The Hague Tribunal," the group said.

The association said it will urge Bosnia's international administrator, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, to bar the cross on the ground that it could threaten the country's peace.

Sarajevo's mayor, Semiha Borovac, said the monument would enrage people in Sarajevo.

"This is not contributing to reconciliation. It is not in the tradition of Sarajevo to build such monuments. We build churches. ... But this I cannot support," she said in an interview.