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Bosnia: Sixth Anniversary Of Srebrenica Massacre Commemorated

  • Jolyon Naegele

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Serbian massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian civilians at Srebrenica. Relatives of the victims are gathered near the former mining town to mark the anniversary of Europe's worst single atrocity since World War II. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.

Prague, 11 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of survivors and relatives of the victims of the Bosnian Serb massacre at Srebrenica gathered today in a cornfield amid the hills of eastern Bosnia for the unveiling of a monument to the memory of their 7,000 to 8,000 murdered loved ones.

The leader of Bosnia's Islamic community, Reis-ul-Ulema (Supreme Authority) Mustafa Ceric, told the gathering, "We know there is no collective responsibility for genocide, but we cannot allow war crimes and war criminals to hide behind the people."

This, the sixth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, differs from past commemorations because it comes after the collapse of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and after Serbia's transfer of Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague. It also comes one week after Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic, on a visit to The Hague, pledged to cooperate with the tribunal.

Nevertheless, wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic remain at large -- and not far from Srebrenica. Mladic, who appears to bear the greatest responsibility for the massacre, is believed to be in Han Pijesak, some 60 km west of Srebrenica. Karadzic is suspected of being somewhere to the south of Srebrenica in the upper Drina Valley between Foca and Visegrad, reportedly moving about in disguise, with a shaved head and dressed as an Orthodox priest.

After Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-declared safe haven of Srebrenica six years ago, General Mladic assured local residents that they would not be harmed. Some 7,500 men and boys were then separated from the others and led away to be murdered, while the women and children were bused to Muslim-held Tuzla, where many of them still live.

Two former Bosnian Serb commanders who allegedly participated in the Srebrenica massacre are currently in custody at The Hague. General Radislav Krstic, second in command of the Drina corps, which led the attack on Srebrenica, was recently tried on genocide charges and his verdict is expected later this month. Dragan Obrenovic, who commanded the Zvornik brigade, which participated in the attack, was arrested three months ago and faces charges of complicity in genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Only one man so far has been tried and convicted for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. He is Drazen Erdemovic, a Bosnian Croat who served in the Bosnian Serb army and admitted to killing up to 70 Muslims on orders from his superiors. He was released earlier this year after serving half his five-year sentence in a Norwegian prison.

Security at today's ceremony was tight in an effort to avoid the kind of anti-Muslim violence that occurred two months ago in Banja Luka and Trebinje. At the time, Bosnian Serbs rioted in protest at ceremonies marking the start of reconstruction of the mosques destroyed by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries eight years ago.

Srebrenica is currently home to several thousand displaced Serbs from other parts of Bosnia who are unable or unwilling to go home. But the town is also attracting a small but increasing number of former Muslim residents, who are moving back into their old homes.

The mayor, or chairman of the municipal assembly, of Srebrenica is Desnica Radevojevic, a Serb. Before the ceremony he expressed hope that those responsible for the massacre will be brought to justice.

"Those who committed these crimes are known, and they will certainly have to face justice and take responsibility for what they did. Only then can we expect a normal life together [with the Muslims] as before."

The international community and local authorities deployed 1,300 police, 300 UN civilian police as well as numerous heavily armed SFOR peacekeepers in the Srebrenica area today. The authorities also ordered all taverns in the nearby Bosnian Serb stronghold of Bratunac closed for the day and all roads in the area shut down until well after the ceremony ended.

Scores of buses transported some several thousand participants to the ceremony in a cornfield at Potocari, some five kilometers north of Srebrenica, where the victims of the massacre are to be reburied.

There were no political speeches, only prayers. Representatives of both of Bosnia's entities -- Republika Srpska as well as the Muslim-Croat Federation -- attended, as did a large number of diplomats. The British government financed the monument -- a three-ton stone marker bearing the simple inscription, "Srebrenica, July 1995."

Speaking in Sarajevo earlier this week [9 July], the international community's High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch, acknowledged that the international community shares responsibility for the massacre. The killings occurred with the knowledge of Dutch UN peacekeepers on the scene and senior UN officials in Sarajevo.

"What happened in Srebrenica in 1995 disgraced the whole world. The victims of the massacre were under the special protection of the international community. I have decided that the ceremony for the victims of Srebrenica will take place according to tradition and custom and with dignity. Remembering the victims represents a moral duty. Moreover, we want to do everything possible to bring to justice all those who were responsible for Srebrenica."

In the five and a half years since the end of the fighting, Hague tribunal forensic experts and staffers of the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons have exhumed the remains of 4,800 victims and expect to exhume 1,000 more by the end of this year. The remains of only 100 of the victims have so far been identified, but experts say that by using technology to analyze DNA, they will be able to identify the remains of 200 victims a month. Proper burials for the victims are still years away, however.

The chairwoman of an association of Srebrenica Muslims, Munira Subasic, helped organize survivors and relatives in Sarajevo to come to today's ceremony.

"You are invited to come and show with your presence that you know what happened at Srebrenica, and that only the truth, rather than forgetting, can lead to reconciliation. Help us to find out the truth about our dearest ones and to put their bones to rest. Help us as you were unable to help them. Use your power and influence so that the Dayton [Peace] Agreement is implemented and information is exchanged."

Local Bosnian Serbs are due to start construction tomorrow of a monument to what they say are some 1,300 Serbs who were killed in the area by Muslims during the 1992 to 1995 war in Bosnia.

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