Bosnians mark anniversary with mass burial
Massacre victims moved to graves near Srebrenica
SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina - Hundreds of victims of the Srebrenica massacre were reburied yesterday as more than 40,000 mourners looked on - solemnly paying their respects on the 16th anniversary of the worst crime in Europe since the Nazi era.
After a ceremony and collective prayer at the memorial center in the eastern Bosnian town that already contains more than 4,500 graves, survivors and volunteers hoisted 613 coffins wrapped in green cloth to the air and carried them to a field of freshly dug graves.
The youngest laid to rest was 11 years old and the oldest 82. Several people fainted as the names of the victims were read.
Among the dead was Nezira Ibisevic - just 20 years old and freshly married when she fled murderous Serb forces with her husband, Hazim Smajlovic, and brother.
As her coffin was lowered into the earth, her brother - Jusuf Ibisevic, who survived - leapt into her grave.
“May this earth not be too heavy for you, sister,’’ he said, tears pouring down his cheeks as he began shoveling earth onto her coffin. The sound of dirt from hundreds of shovels hitting wooden coffins echoed around the swelteringly hot valley.
The body of Nezira’s husband, along with about 3,000 others, has yet to be found; however, a plot remains next to her grave for the couple one day to be reunited in death.
In July 1995, some 30,000 residents of mainly Muslim Srebrenica flocked to the UN military base in the Srebrenica suburb of Potocari. But when Serb forces - led by recently arrested genocide suspect Ratko Mladic - arrived, the outnumbered Dutch troops simply opened the gate.
Serb soldiers then separated the crowd by gender and drove the men and boys to the fields. More than 8,000 men and boys were butchered over the following few days.
There were 15,000 others - almost all men, as women were bused by the Serbs to government territory - who tried to escape, fleeing through the mountains in a desperate attempt to reach Bosnian government-held territory. Many were hunted down and executed, their bodies later found in mass graves.
During the ceremony, officials called on Serbs both in Bosnia and in neighboring Serbia to face the past and realize what was done in their name.
“A great number of Serb people refuse to face the truth,’’ said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosnian member of the country’s three-member presidency. Izetbegovic attended the ceremony with his Bosnian Croat colleague, Zeljko Komsic.
The Bosnian Serb member failed to attend yesterday, as has been the case for 16 years, reflecting the deep division that remains among Muslim Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs who fought each other at various points of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that cost 100,000 lives and culminated with the Srebrenica massacre.
“Those who deny this genocide, or attempt to minimize it, add immensely to the grief of those gathered here today,’’ said the US ambassador to Bosnia, Patrick Moon.
This year’s commemoration had particular resonance as it followed the recent capture of Mladic, the Serb commander accused of orchestrating the execution and now standing trial on genocide charges in The Hague.
Boris Tadic, Serbian president, attended last year’s commemoration, where he promised to do everything he could to arrest Mladic.
“He kept his promise,’’ said Izetbegovic, the son of Alija Izetbegovic, late wartime Bosnian president. “We finally have leaders in the region who are ready to face the past and build a better future.’’ Izetbegovic thanked Croatia’s president, Ivo Josipovic, for coming and telling the victim’s families they are not alone in their sorrow.
“But there are parts of Bosnia and Serbia where Mladic is still celebrated as a hero,’’ he added.
Bosnia is divided in two ministates - one for the Serbs, the other shared by Muslim Bosnians and Croats. Neighboring Serbia supported the Bosnian Serbs during the war politically and logistically.