Orthodox priests and Bosnian Serb soldiers looked on as the women wailed and the world's television cameras rolled. For Bosnian Serb leaders, this was not just a simple funeral for 17 victims of a 'Muslim massacre', it was a burial service for the Vance- Owen peace plan.
The badly decomposed bodies of the 11 men and six women paraded before the international press yesterday were supposedly discovered in a mass grave six miles from Fakovici, a small riverside village in Bosnia that came under Muslim attack last June. The Muslims were trying to turn the tide of the Bosnian war and had launched a wave of revenge attacks on Serbian villages in the area. Hundreds including women, children and the elderly, were reported missing or killed.
Yesterday, survivors of the Fakovici attack were on hand to recount their stories while the relatives of the missing or of those whose remains had been positively identified waited in the background with tears in their eyes. The tears were real, as was the wailing of the mourners, but the organised atmosphere was politically charged.
The exhumation and burial of the 17 were announced during the referendum on the Vance-Owen peace plan in Serb-held Bosnia last weekend, when the country was full of Western journalists. If there were any doubts about the authenticity of the referendum or Serbian passions, then it was clear that the Bosnian Serb leadership wanted to bury them along with the peace plan before the world's press at Fakovici.
This would not be the first time that the Bosnian Serbs had used the discovery of a mass grave to drive home their opposition to Vance- Owen. On 2 May, while the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, was in Greece raising hopes for peace by initialling the plan, some of his associates were opening a mass grave at Bosanski Brod in northern Bosnia.
So it was yesterday. As earth movers were scooping out a new resting place for the 17 beside a Second World War memorial, General Milan Gvro, the deputy commander of the Bosnian Serbs, was re-drawing the boundaries of forgiveness.
'These people were killed in front of their homes,' he said, pointing to the coffins lined up neatly in preparation for a funeral procession. 'If a man loses his life in front of his own home and then another comes along wanting to give that land on which that home stands to someone else, well that speaks for itself.'
If this were not clear enough, the general then pointed to a wrecked building with a memorial plaque nearby. 'About 250 people were killed in that building in 1943 (by pro- Nazi Croats) and were buried at the memorial where these coffins will also be put. The Serbs forgave according to the Bible, but that forgiveness eventually cost the lives of these people here. Never again. Forgiveness has its limits.'
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