Bosnia's Muslims unveil tribute to Srebrenica dead

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In a meadow in eastern Bosnia, 3,000 Muslim mourners prayed and wept yesterday as they unveiled the foundation stone of a memorial for victims of the worst massacre in Europe since the days of Nazi Germany.

Six years ago, lightly armed United Nations peace-keepers watched powerlessly as Bosnian Serbs overran the supposed "safe haven" of Srebrenica, separated Muslim men and boys from their families and took them away to be killed.

Almost 8,000 disappeared. Since then, several thousand bodies have been exhumed from mass graves. Yesterday, in a heavily guarded convoy of 100 buses, survivors and bereaved relatives gathered in the field across from the old battery factory where the UN garrison had been based in the summer of 1995.

In a brief and tearful ceremony, five women who lost both husbands and sons in the slaughter unveiled a plain stone marker, weighing three tons, and inscribed with just the words "Srebrenica, July 1995." Paid for by the British Government, it stands in the cornfield which will be the new, permanent graveyard of the victims.

A monument alone, however, will not undo the hatred left by three years of savage war in Bosnia – of which Srebrenica suffered the worst of many outrages. A decade ago, the former silver-mining town was overwhelmingly Muslim; today it is almost entirely Serb, largely populated by Serbs uprooted from former homes in Muslim/Croat areas of the country.

Some 2,000 police and heavily armed international peacekeepers provided security at the site and along the approach road because Muslims attending previous commemorations of the massacre had been stoned by the region's Serbs.

Throughout proceedings, an unrequited demand for justice was palpable. "We pray for sorrow to become hope, for revenge to become justice," said Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the leader of Bosnia's Muslim community who presided over the ceremony. "Dear God we come here not to indict – but neither do we come to free from guilt."

All Serbs could be held responsible, he warned, if indicted war criminals were not handed over to The Hague. "There should not be collective guilt, but you should also not hide criminals behind the people."

The reference above all was to the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, who are at the top of The Hague wanted list after their indictment on war crimes charges relating to the massacre. Both are apparently still being sheltered inside Serbian Bosnia, possibly not far from Srebrenica itself, but their days of freedom may be numbered after last month's extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. Amor Masovic, who leads the search for missing Bosnian Muslims said bitterly: "Maybe they are watching us from somewhere near by."

By the end of this year, the bodies of some 6,000 massacre victims will have been exhumed but, even with the help of DNA technology, only 100 or so a month are being identified. Even if the dead are returned for burial, it will be far longer, if ever, before living Muslims return to their former homes in Srebrenica.

Today local Serbs will start work on a memorial to the 1,300 of their own that they claim were killed in the area. To this day, many Serbs contend their community was the biggest loser in Bosnia, pointing to Muslim attacks soon after the conflict began in 1992.