On the 17th anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since the Second World War, Muslims in Bosnia are heading to Srebrenica to attend a funeral for 520 newly identified victims.
The remains of those Muslim men and boys slaughtered at Srebrenica around July 11, 1995, will be laid to rest in the town whose name is now synonymous with genocide. The coffins are already at the memorial centre and the burial pits have been dug.
Ambulances were also standing ready to help those among the tens of thousands for whom the event will be too much to handle.
Rabija Hrustanovic found the remains of her husband and brother among the sea of simple green coffins waiting to be buried. “I want to lay down next to them and stay here forever,” she said before breaking into tears.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic overran the enclave in July 1995, separated men from women and executed 8,000 men and boys within just a few days. Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned, and failed to intervene.
The bodies of the victims are still being found in mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia. The task has been made even more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators dug up mass graves and reburied remains in other mass graves to try to cover their tracks.
The victims have been identified through DNA analysis and newly identified ones are buried at the Srebrenica memorial centre every year. So far, over 5,000 Srebrenica victims found this way have been laid to rest.
Mladic was arrested last year in Serbia and is on trial now at the tribunal in The Hague. He faces 11 charges, including genocide, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war that left 100,000 dead, especially the Srebrenica massacre. He denies wrongdoing.
But despite the charges, to many Serbs Mladic remains a national hero. “Serbs believe he is an honourable and fair man,” said Bosnian Serb Novica Kapuran from the town of Pale, near Sarajevo. “He is being blamed for something he has not done.”