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Thousands mark 10th anniversary of slaughter of almost 8,000

2005-07-11 09:20:00

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Thousands mark 10th anniversary of slaughter of almost 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims
12:09 PM EDT Jul 11

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - World leaders joined some 50,000 survivors and guests Monday in marking Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War - the death of nearly 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims 10 years ago.

But Fatima Budic was alone with her grief.

Budic huddled over the coffin of her 14-year-old son, and the sound of Muslim prayer echoed through a loudspeaker across Srebrenica's valley. Family members wandered between the 610 coffins laid out in the town's Memorial Center containing the remains of the most recently identified victims.

"They killed my entire life and the only thing I want now is to see the guilty ones pay for it," said a sobbing Budic, next to the coffin of her son Velija. He died at age 14. Budic's husband and Velija's 16-year-old brother have never been found.

Government leaders and dignitaries were among the crowd gathered to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the killings that began July 11, 2005, when Bosnian Serb soldiers overran Srebrenica - a UN "safe zone." Outmanned and outgunned, Dutch UN troops watched. The males were led off and slaughtered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia.

Forensics experts so far have exhumed more than 5,000 bodies, and identified 2,032 through DNA analysis and other techniques. More than 1,300 Srebrenica victims are already buried at the cemetery that is part of the memorial centre.

While the slaughter spurred NATO bombings of Serb positions across Bosnia that forced the Serbs to seek peace, government leaders and their representatives on Monday acknowledged the world's failure to stop the killing - and expressed regrets in deeply personal terms.

"It is to the shame of the international community that this evil took place under our noses and we did nothing," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "I bitterly regret this and I'm deeply sorry for it."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed "solidarity" with the relatives in a message read out at the ceremonies and drew parallels between the ethnic intolerance that spurred the Bosnian war and the terrorist bombings in London on Thursday that left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

"The bombers seek to provoke hatred between religions and cultures," he said. "It is our duty to humanity to ensure they never succeed."

Paddy Ashdown, Bosnia's international administrator, described Srebrenica as the "worst crime to take place in Europe in the latter part of the 20th century" - and the international community's failure to stop as "our greatest shame."

He and other senior officials at the ceremony viewed graphic evidence of the killings - a nearby mass grave containing the jumbled bones of some 30 victims.

Outside, families of the dead hoisted a huge banner that read: Europe's Shame - Genocide.

The Srebrenica victims were among some 250,000 people killed in the 1992-95 war among Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. About 16,500 bodies have been exhumed from more than 300 mass graves throughout the country.

The alleged masterminds of the July 11, 1995, massacre - Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic - have been indicted by the UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for genocide and crimes against humanity at Srebrenica and elsewhere. Both are still at large.

Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the service - a significant gesture given Serbia's political and military backing of the Bosnian Serbs during the war under former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The former leader is now being tried by the UN war-crimes tribunal for his alleged role in atrocities during Bosnian war and other Balkan bloodshed.

Ahead of Monday's ceremony Tadic said he would come to "pay tribute to the innocent victims of the crime committed there."

"It is necessary to establish full trust and co-operation in the region," he said. "We have to break the circle of evil on the Balkans."

Tadic has faced criticism from Serbia's hardline nationalists for his decision to attend the Srebrenica ceremonies.

Among other officials attending were members of Bosnia's three-person presidency, which governs the country divided by the U.S.-brokered peace agreement into a Bosnian Serb ministate and a Bosnian-Croat Federation, as well as Croatia's President Stipe Mesic, and the head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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