Srebrenica Recalled With Grief and Shame

A woman grieves beside the graves of 610 recently identified victims who were buried by family members on the anniversary of the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims.
A woman grieves beside the graves of 610 recently identified victims who were buried by family members on the anniversary of the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims. (By Dusan Vranic -- Associated Press)
By Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela
Reuters
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

SREBRENICA, Bosnia, July 11 -- With shovels and bare hands, Bosnian Muslim families buried the skeletal remains of 610 victims Monday as thousands of citizens and political leaders gathered at ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the massacre that took place around this mountain town.

Thousands of men in long rows passed flag-draped coffins above their heads toward freshly dug graves, where women in white head scarves, weeping and silently praying, waited by wooden markers.

Tagged with a name and number, each casket contained only the bones of victims painstakingly identified by DNA analysis. Each family buried its own, manually shifting the sodden earth.

The dead had lain for years in hidden pits. They had been thrown there by Bosnian Serb troops in July 1995 after the systematic slaughter of an estimated 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys, taken from a so-called U.N.-designated "safe area."

"Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping and of the United Nations," said the former U.S. envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke. "It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again." A message from U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan reiterated that Srebrenica would forever haunt the world.

Some 150 lightly armed Dutch troops charged with guarding Srebrenica's Muslims were swept aside by Bosnian Serb forces while the United Nations rejected appeals by the Dutch commander on the ground for NATO airstrikes to halt the Serb offensive.

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

Mustafa Ceric, the leader of Bosnia's Islamic community, declared: "The truth cannot be forgotten, it cannot be denied. The evil must be spoken about for the evil not to be forgotten."

A decade after the massacre, ethnic tensions remain high. Although Bosnia declared Monday a day of national mourning, its Serb entity said it was "not informed" and largely failed to observe the solemnities. In neighboring Serbia, only a few private channels covered the ceremony live.

Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the memorial and laid a wreath, ignoring Serb nationalists who objected on grounds he should honor Serb war dead instead.

A choir opened the ceremony with the mournful "Srebrenica Inferno" as families sought out the final resting places of their fathers, husbands and sons. All of the Muslims among an estimated 40,000 mourners turned to Mecca and knelt for prayers.

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

Ratko Mladic, the army commander of the breakaway Bosnian Serb state during the 1992-1995 war, and Radovan Karadzic, its political leader, are indicted for genocide for the atrocity. Both remain at large. "The failure to arrest them is a great failure which we all regret. They must be caught," Holbrooke said.

Monday's funerals raised the number of identified and buried victims to about 2,000. There are 7,000 body bags with remains still to be identified, and 20 more mass graves await excavation.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company