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Join Date: Mar 2001
Local Time: 07:59 PM
Srebrenica Massacre Victims Are Buried
POTOCARI, Bosnia-Herzegovina - The first identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica slaughter — Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II — were buried Monday at the site where their relatives last saw them alive.
Monday's mass burial brought peace only to the families of 600 Muslim men and boys whose remains have been identified. As many as 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered by the Bosnian Serbs in the nearby eastern enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.
About 15,000 people arrived by bus or car from around Bosnia and abroad to attend the funeral in Potocari, where the victims were separated from their wives and mothers, taken away and executed.
Muslim women usually do not attend funerals but Bosnia's Islamic community made an exception for Srebrenica. Many women collapsed, weeping uncontrollably, next to the caskets of their children and husbands.
Standing to one side was Ajka Besic, 49, who held her 10-year-old son, Mehmedalija, by the hand. Besic's older son, husband, father and other male family members have not yet been found and may be among 5,000 unidentified bodies exhumed from mass graves.
"For a Srebrenica mother, the definition of luck is to find the bones of her child," she said, sobbing. "In a way, I envy the women standing among the graves. They have found their children. Where is mine?"
Besic returned eight months ago to live in Srebrenica, now occupied by Serbs, many of whom do not want Muslims to return. Her son is the only Muslim child in his school's third grade.
"I don't remember Dad. But I wish he would have a grave," the boy said.
After a prayer, male relatives of the victims lowered the caskets into the graves, as is customary among Bosnia's Muslims.
But many victims had no male relatives left, prompting foreign ambassadors who attended the funeral to pick up shovels and help. U.S. Ambassador Clifford Bond and Paddy Ashdown, Bosnia's top international administrator, were among those helping lower caskets into graves and cover them with soil.
Security was tight for the funeral. NATO helicopters patrolled the skies and 1,800 police officers and alliance peacekeepers were deployed in the area. The government declared a national day of mourning, and the ceremony was televised across Bosnia.
Many of the perpetrators of the massacre remain at large, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, who led the Serb forces who overran the U.N. "safe haven" and the lightly armed Dutch U.N. peacekeepers charged with protecting it.
Both have been indicted for genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague Netherlands, where former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is being tried for the atrocities at Srebrenica and other war crimes. Milosevic has denied involvement.
The head of Bosnia's Islamic community, Reis Mustafa Ceric, led the ceremony and called for justice for those responsible. But he urged the victims' families not to seek revenge.
"The one who gives up his right for revenge will be rewarded with the forgiveness of all of his sins," Ceric said. "May our sorrow turn into hope. May revenge be replaced with justice. May Srebrenica never happen again."
Ramo Smajic, 14, came to Potocari alone to bury his father, Fajko. The boy's mother died in 1996 "of sorrow," he said, leaving him with his aunt, who was burying the remains of her own husband.
As other mourners started lifting caskets and lowering them into the earth, Ramo jumped into his father's grave and tried to pull his casket down by himself.
Seeing the child struggling alone, three people approached and helped the boy lay his father to rest.