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Bosnians, World Leaders Converge On Srebrenica To Remember Victims

  • RFE/RL

Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in eastern Bosnia on July 11 for ceremonies to honor the 8,000 Muslim men and boys massacred by Serb troops in Srebrenica 20 years ago.

Attendees at the event to mark Europe's worst atrocity since World War II should include EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Jordan's Queen Noor, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in addition to other foreign diplomats and dignitaries.

The ceremonies will include a funeral for the latest 136 victims to have been identified through DNA tests that have helped confirm the remains of nearly 7,000 of those killed.

On July 11, 1995, near the end of a three-year interethnic war in Bosnia that claimed some 100,000 lives, Serb troops took control of the largely Muslim enclave from outgunned Dutch peacekeepers deployed to protect the UN "safe haven."

Thousands of Muslim men and boys tried to escape through the woods but were hunted down by Serb soldiers.

Serb soldiers separated some 2,000 men who remained in the Dutch troops' base from women and children, then executed them and dumped them in mass graves.

Six thousand more men and boys captured in the woods were also killed.

The remains of nearly 7,000 victims have been found and identified in the intervening decades.

More than 6,000 of those victims have been reburied at the Potocari Memorial Center near the former UN base, where mourning ceremonies will be held on July 11.

A screen grab of Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic meeting a Bosnian Muslim boy shortly before the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

A screen grab of Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic meeting a Bosnian Muslim boy shortly before the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

The UN International Court of Justice ruled in 2007 that the massacre was genocide.

On July 8, Russia used its UN Security Council veto to block a draft resolution recognizing the Srebrenica tragedy as a genocide, prompting Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to call it "a great day for Serbia."

But Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who said earlier in the week that he wanted to bow his head before the victims of a "horrible crime," is expected to take part in the Srebrenica ceremonies.

Serbian police said on July 10 that they had banned all public gatherings in Belgrade related to the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

Last weekend, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Republika Srpska, an ethnic territorial entity within Bosnia whose population is majority Bosnian Serbs, called the number of Srebrenica victims a "lie."

The leaders of Bosnia's ethnic Serbs and Serbia, who have close religious and cultural ties to Russia, had lobbied Russian officials to vote against the UN genocide resolution.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the veto was "a further stain on this [Security] Council's record."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 9 called the anniversary "a powerful reminder of the need to confront evil in all its forms, and to stand up for human rights and dignity."

In Sarajevo during a tour of the Balkans this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Bosnians to work toward a brighter future.

"I came here at the time when we remember the Srebrenica genocide," Merkel told reporters in the Bosnian capital. "I think that we all need the courage to create such a future in which really horrible things could never happen again."

Bosnia's war ended with a U.S.-brokered peace agreement that divided the once ethnically mixed country into two entities -- ethnically Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat Federation shared by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. They are linked by a common government, parliament, and a three-member presidency in which each group holds a veto.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP, and AFP
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