By Aida Cerkez /Associated Press –
Some 30,000 Muslims travelled to a memorial centre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, on Wednesday to bury 520 newly identified victims — the remains of thousands of 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in July 1995 by Serb forces.
The annual ritual was as heartbreaking as ever.
Izabela Hasanovic, 27, spent the last minutes crying over one of the coffins before it was lowered into the ground.
“My father, my father is here,” she sobbed. “I cannot believe that my father is in this coffin. I cannot accept it!”
Sefika Menakic’s 15-year-old son Adem was killed as he tried to escape through the hills after Dutch peacekeepers abandoned the town designated as a UN “safe haven” to the Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic, who executed more than 8,000 men and boys.
Menakic, 56, learned three months ago that forensic experts had identified a shoulder bone of her son and several ribs, which she buried on Wednesday.
“It kills me to think he lays there headless,” she said. “But at least I know I have a place to come and pray for his soul.”
The valley echoed Wednesday with the sound of dirt pounding on over 500 coffins from thousands of shovels as a voice read out the names of the victims and their ages from loudspeakers.
Among them were 48 teenagers as well as 94-year-old Saha Izmirlic, who was buried next to her son who also died in the massacre. On the other side of her grave, an empty space is waiting for her grandson, who has not yet been found.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. Serb troops led Mladic overran the enclave in July 1995, separated men from women and executed 8,372 men and boys within just a few days.
Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned and failed to stop the slaughter.
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 5,325 Srebrenica massacre 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 Menakic says the outcome of the trial doesn’t matter to her.
“I don’t care what happens anymore,” she said. “There is no verdict that could bring back my son.”
With files from Reuters/ The Star