SREBRENICA: Thousands gathered in Srebrenica on Tuesday to mark the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II, with some relatives of the victims giving their loved ones a proper burial for the first time.
The remains of 71 victims of the bloodshed, which has been ruled genocide by international courts, were laid to rest in a joint funeral at a memorial cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica.
They included a 33-year-old woman and seven people who were under 18 when they were killed.
Adela Efendic said she had come to “finally say goodbye” to her father Senaid, who was 35 when he was killed.
“His remains were found nine years ago in a common grave, but only a few bones,” the 22-year-old said, her head covered with a violet veil and tears streaming down her cheeks.
“We were waiting, hoping to find more, but nothing turned up… We decided to bury him now so his bones find peace,” said Efendic, who was just 20 days old when her father died.
“I have only one photo of him, a small one, like for an ID card. But my mother told me a lot about him… it allows me to imagine him.”
Bosnian Serb forces captured the eastern Bosnian town, a UN-protected enclave at the time, on July 11, 1995, five months before the end of Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war.
In the following days they summarily killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
‘Know where their bones are’
Fata Omerovic regularly attends the commemorations at Potocari, where she already buried her two sons and husband.
“We know at least where their bones are,” whispered the 65-year-old woman, who has only one daughter left, while caressing the three white gravestones.
“We come here, pray, look at gravestones… It’s more difficult for those who didn’t find their children and husbands.”
So far the remains of 6,429 Srebrenica victims have been buried at the memorial site and 233 in other cemeteries, according to Bosnia’s institute of missing people.
The remains of more than 1,000 other victims have yet to be located.
The victims were found in about 80 mass graves, the last of which was discovered in December 2015.
Among the identified victims were 22 women and about 440 children less than 18 years old when they were killed, according to the institute.
In 2016, a UN tribunal found Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide over his role in the atrocity and sentenced him to 40 years in prison.
Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb wartime military chief, is awaiting a verdict by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in November.
Bosnian Serbs and Belgrade refuse to acknowledge the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide, despite urgings from a handful of Serbian opposition leaders and prominent human rights organisations.
On Tuesday, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, urged “Serbian people and its… elites to accept the truth and stop denying the genocide.”
It will be a “step towards a genuine reconciliation and better future for all of us,” he said at the commemoration.
But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who was a close ally of ultranationalist Serbian leader Vojislav Seselj during the war, has said their words “do not oblige the state”.
Vucic, who did not attend the ceremony, told Serbian broadcaster Happy TV on Monday that a “horrible crime was committed” in Srebrenica while also pointing to crimes committed against ethnic Serbs during Croatia’s 1990s war, as well as killings committed during World War II.
During a visit by Vucic to the 2015 anniversary of the massacre, a mob of people throwing stones chased him away.
In Belgrade, a banner was hoisted in front of the Serbian parliament with photos of some of 3,000 Serbian soldiers and civilians killed in the Srebrenica area by Muslim forces during the war.
“The families of slaughtered Serbian victims want justice!,” the banner read.
Across the street, in the park facing the Serbian presidency building, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights was to hold a vigil later Tuesday to commemorate victims of the Srebrenica massacre.
The 1992-1995 war between Bosnia’s Croats, Muslims and Serbs claimed some 100,000 lives and left almost half of its four million inhabitants homeless.
It also split the country into two semi-independent entities, the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Srebrenica, where Muslims were once the majority, has remained in the Serb-run half.