Monday, July 11, 2005

Bosnian grief, Western regret at Srebrenica

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By Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Families grieved over the skeletal remains of Srebrenica victims on Monday at the 10th anniversary of the massacre, as the West acknowledged its failure to prevent Europe's worst atrocity in 50 years.

Women in white headscarves wept and touched some of the 610 green-draped coffins lined up under a gray sky at the Potocari cemetery, now a muddy field after an overnight storm.

The dead had lain for years in hidden pits where they were flung by Bosnian Serb troops in July 1995 after the systematic slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys taken from what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected "safe area."

Identified by DNA analysis, their bones came home for burial in narrow, cylindrical boxes tagged with a number and a name.

"Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping and of the United Nations. It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again," said former U.S. Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke.

A message from U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated that Srebrenica would haunt the world body forever. Some 400 lightly armed Dutch troops guarding Srebrenica's Muslims were swept aside by Bosnia Serb forces while the U.N. rejected appeals for air strikes by NATO to halt their advance.

"The victims had put their trust in international protection. But we, the international community, let them down," said a message from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "This was a colossal, collective and shameful failure."


"The truth cannot be forgotten, it cannot be denied. The evil must be spoken about for the evil not to be forgotten," said Mustafa efendi Ceric, Bosnia's chief Islamic priest.

But the evidence of massacre has little impact on hardline Serbs who insist any killing was simply a hard fact of war or a justifiable act of revenge, or who deny the massacre outright.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic attended the memorial, although some Muslims said they do not welcome him and Serb nationalists objected, saying he should come to their rival memorials for Serb war dead this week. A choir sang the mournful "Srebrenica Inferno" as families walked the rows of freshly dug graves looking for the final resting place of their fathers, husbands and sons. Tens of thousands turned to Mecca and knelt for prayers.

"Our pain continues, every year we come to bury someone else," said Hajrija Mujic, who was burying her father-in-law. Her husband's remains were identified too late for burial today.

The massacre, in the final months of a 43-month war that claimed 200,000 lives, aimed to ensure there were no Muslims to fight back or reclaim Serb-occupied land or homes in the future.

Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and his political master Radovan Karadzic are indicted for genocide for the atrocity. To the anger of Bosnians and the embarrassment of Western powers who intervened belatedly, both remain at large.

"The failure to arrest them is a great failure which we all regret. They must be caught," said Holbrooke.

Srebrenica today is a dismal, half-empty town in the "Republika Srpska," or Serb Republic half of Bosnia, which last year had to be coerced into acknowledging the massacre. The only visitors come to tend to the graves at the Potocari cemetery.

Monday's funerals will raise the number of identified and buried Srebrenica victims to about 2,000. There are 7,000 more body bags with partial remains still awaiting identification and 20 more mass graves awaiting excavation.

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