Srebrenica remembers massacre after Mladic arrest
Thousands of Bosnian Muslims commemorated the Srebrenica massacre Monday, burying newly-identified victims amid fresh hopes that Ratko Mladic's arrest will spell justice.
Some 20,000 people attended a special service to mark the 16th anniversary of the atrocity in which 8,000 Muslims were massacred, the worst mass killing in Europe since the end of World War II.
The remains of 613 victims only identified last year after painstaking DNA analyses were reburied, only weeks after the capture of Bosnian Serb ex-army chief Mladic, the man alleged to have masterminded the massacre.
Standing next to an open grave and a mound of reddish earth, 26-year-old Ahmed Sehic was there to bury his father who was killed along with two of his uncles while trying to flee through the woods to Muslim-held territory.
"Thank God, today his bones will find peace ... I will know where he is, where I can come to visit his grave," he told AFP.
Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic, arrested in 2008, are charged by a UN war crimes tribunal with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Srebrenica massacre, the only episode in the bloody Balkans wars to have been ruled genocide by international courts, is a key part of the indictments against them.
"While this judicial process can never compensate the bereaved for the losses they continue to bear, I hope that Mladic's arrest will mark a turning point for all the countries of the Western Balkans and the start of a new chapter of cooperation, harmony and progress," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement issued by the British embassy in Sarajevo.
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said at the ceremony that "there are no words to explain this inexplicable and irrational evil, a boundless hate against people whose only crime was to be Muslims."
"With time other wounds will heal but never Srebrenica," he said.
Izetbegovic stressed the importance of reconciliation in the war-torn Balkans region and hailed Serbian President Boris Tadic's role in finally arresting Mladic.
"Last year on the same day Boris Tadic was with us in Potocari and promised to do everything in his power to arrest Ratko Mladic. He kept his word," Izetbegovic said.
Mladic famously visited Srebrenica right after the UN-protected enclave fell and promised refugees gathered in front of the UN barracks, "No one will harm you."
His troops had already started separating the men from the women, children and elderly and in the coming days would summarily execute nearly 8,000 men and boys.
The victims were buried in mass graves which were later dug up and the remains scattered over different smaller secondary graves to cover up the scale of the slaughter.
This had rendered the recovery of remains extremely difficult and some families are burying only a handful of bones.
Next to a tomb, Ajka Husic, a veil covering her elderly face, shows the three graves that hold her husband and two sons and the spot where her third son will be buried whose remains were only partly recovered.
"I talk to them, they do not answer me but I hope God will find a way to let them hear me and to know that their mother came," she told AFP.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who has championed reconciliation in the region, made a plea for its future.
"Sixteen years ago a genocide was committed in Srebrenica, an unthinkable crime against thousands of victims ... We must teach our children to love and protect others regardless of their nationality or religion," Josipovic said.
The United States ambassador to Bosnia Patrick Moon lashed out at attempts to deny the genocide. Bosnian Serb hardline President Milorad Dodik has repeatedly said the massacre is not a genocide and has tried to minimize the scale of the killings.
"Each time they deny the undeniable, they are obstructing the path to justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation," Moon said.
© 2011 AFP