SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Hoisting hundreds of coffins aloft, a line of weeping relatives stretched for at least a mile Sunday as they honored Srebrenica massacre victims on the 15th anniversary of the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
A whole hillside in the eastern Bosnian town was dug out with graves, waiting for 775 coffins covered in green cloths to be laid to rest at the biggest Srebrenica funeral so far.
Still, that was less than a tenth of the total number of Muslim men and boys executed after Serb forces overran the U.N.-protected town on July 11, 1995, during the 1992-’95 Bosnian war.
“I grew up without a father and I don’t even remember him,” said 16-year-old Hajro Ibrahimovic.
When the procession reached the hill, some 60,000 people splintered into rivulets as relatives sought the exact grave for their loved ones. The sound of dirt pounding against the coffins’ wooden lids echoed over the valley, as two announcers, one male and one female, solemnly read out the names of the victims being buried.
That took 64 minutes.
On that fateful day in 1995, some 30,000 Bosnian Muslims had flocked to the U.N. military base in the town’s suburb of Potocari for refuge. But when Serb forces came, they forced outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers to open the gates. The Serbs then separated out the Muslim men and boys, putting them on trucks and carting them away, the vast majority never to be seen again. The Dutch peacekeepers lived.
The Srebrenica memorial center now stands across the road from that former U.N. base.
Andrew Gilmour, the special representative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in neighboring Serbia, represented the U.N. at the event, and other U.N. officials also attended, said Nick Birnback, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department. Ban plans to reaffirm the United Nations’ sorrow over what took place in Srebrenica at a commemorative event today, a spokesman said.
The youngest victim buried Sunday was 14, the oldest 78, joining nearly 4,000 already buried at the memorial center. All the bodies had been excavated from mass graves and identified through DNA tests.
Another 1,844 victims have been identified, but their skeletons consist only of a few bones and relatives are refusing to bury them before more fragments are found.
Former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic were indicted with genocide for the Srebrenica massacre by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in 1995. Karadzic is now on trial at the tribunal in The Hague while Mladic is still a fugitive, presumably hiding in Serbia.