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Srebrenica Massacre Remembered On 15th Anniversary


Coffins of newly identified victims during preparations for their mass burial at the Potocari memorial cemetery near Srebrenica
Tens of thousands of people attended a memorial ceremony on July 11 marking the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, when Bosnian Serb paramilitaries executed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys toward the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The massacre, deemed genocide by the UN war crimes court and the International Court of Justice, was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

The ceremony at the Potocari cemetery near Srebrenica included the burial of 775 recently identified victims, who will join the 3,749 already there.

New Burials

Serbian President Boris Tadic, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were among the dignitaries attending the event.

Among those addressing the ceremony was U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia, Charles L. English, who said "We have a sacred duty to remember the cruelty that occurred here and to prevent such atrocities from happening again."

"We have responsibility to future generations all over the globe to agree that we must refuse to be bystanders to evil whenever and wherever it occurs. We must be prepared to stand up for human dignity," English said.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondent Maja Nikolic, who is in Srebrenica, says those gathered for the ceremony in Potocari included relatives of the victims and religious leaders.

Remains of the victims were brought for burial in coffins wrapped in green material. Among them was a coffin of a Croat, the first non-Muslim victim of the 1995 massacre to be buried in Potocari.

People were laying flowers around new graves.

Our correspondent, who spoke to some of families burying their loved ones, says most of the coffins were carrying only partial remains or just bones.

"Haticha Mahmetovic is burying her husband and two sons. One of his sons is being buried without his head, while the other son's missing body parts are his arms and his legs. There are hundreds of cases like this one," Nikolic said.

"Other mothers are also burying incomplete bodies. They are afraid that they would die and there would be no one to bury their children. There are numerous women who've lost up to 80 members of their families."

March Of Peace

On a symbolic March of Peace, some 5,000 people, including relatives of the victims, arrived in Potocari after hiking for three days through the woods, retracing the path of the men and boys who fled Srebrenica ahead of the advancing Serbian troops in July 1995.

Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were systematically killed over several days after the fall of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb troops, led by General Ratko Mladic, on July 11, 1995.

They were taken away by Serbian forces who overran the enclave, designated a UN safe area, as it was under the protection of UN peacekeepers -- Dutch soldiers.

The victims were shot and buried in mass graves, and reburied again haphazardly later in more than 70 sites in a bid to cover up the evidence of the massacre.

The remains of some 6,500 people have been identified so far by forensic experts who exhumed the bones from the mass graves over the last few years.

The bodies of many more victims are still awaiting identification with DNA testing.

Many Bosnian Muslims blame UN peacekeepers for failing to protect Srebrenica victims.

Mladic, charged with genocide by the UN war crimes court, is still on the run. He is thought to be hiding in Serbia.

The other alleged mastermind behind the genocide, Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Belgrade in 2008. He is currently on trial for war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

In 1999, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report that the UN failed at Srebrenica because of errors, misjudgment, and "an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us."

The Dutch troops were cleared of blame by an independent study by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, which concluded the troops were outnumbered and undersupplied and had orders to shoot only in self-defense.

However, the Dutch government has accepted "political responsibility" for the mission's failure. It has since allocated tens of millions of dollars to Bosnia.

Written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague with RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondent Maja Nikolic in Srebrenica. With agency reports.
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