SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina // Thousands gathered in Srebrenica on Monday to mark the 21st anniversary of Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust and to attend the funeral of 127 newly-found victims.
Family members sobbed as they hugged the coffins for the last time before they were buried at a cemetery next to 6,337 other victims found previously in mass graves. The youngest victim buried this year was 14; the oldest 77.
Fatima Duric, 52, buried her husband whom she saw last when Serbs overran the eastern Bosnian enclave at the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
Nationalist Bosnian Serb forces led by Gen Ratko Mladic executed thousands Bosniak men and boys after overrunning Srebrenica near the end of the war and dumped their bodies in pits — Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War.
The United Nations had declared Srebrenica a safe haven for civilians, but that did not prevent Serb soldiers from attacking the town they besieged for years. As they advanced on July 11, 1995, most of the town’s Muslim population rushed to the nearby UN compound in hopes the Dutch peacekeepers would protect them.
But the outnumbered and outgunned peacekeepers watched helplessly as Muslim men and boys were separated for execution and the women and girls sent to Bosnian government-held territory. Nearly 15,000 residents tried to flee through the woods, but were hunted down and also killed.
International courts defined the massacre of more than 8,000 people as an act of genocide.
The victims were buried in mass graves, which were then shortly after the war dug up by the perpetrators and relocated to hide the crime. During the process, the half-decomposed remains were ripped apart by bulldozers so that body parts are still being found in more than 100 different mass graves and put together and identified through DNA analysis.
Then they are buried each year at the memorial centre across the road from the former UN base where most of the victims were last seen alive.
Ms Duric lost her husband as they fled with their two children through the woods and walked for days toward government-held territory.
“After all these years, his body was found. In fact, just a few bones. I am burying them today,” she said.
Some Serb officials attended previous burial ceremonies but this year was the first time none came after families said that those who deny genocide happened in Srebrenica were not welcome.
“How can anyone say this was not a genocide?” said Nura Suljic, 57, pointing at endless rows of white marble tombstones in the flower-shaped Potocari memorial cemetery near Srebrenica, where more than 6,300 victims are now interred.
Ms Suljic buried her brother after his bones were found in three different mass graves.
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak chairman of Bosnia’s three-person inter-ethnic presidency and son of its late wartime president, urged Serbs to face up to historical facts.
“Acceptance and recognition of the truth is the first step towards genuine trust,” he said.
* Associated Press and Reuters