Ten years on, survivors of Srebrenica march again on road to the killing fields

Many of them are survivors of the massacre. More than 7,000 from Srebrenica died at the hands of Bosnian Serb soldiers under the command of Ratko Mladic, still at large and wanted for war crimes.

They include six brothers who fled along the same path they are walking today but in the opposite direction, from Srebrenica to the Bosniac-held city of Tuzla, braving Serb attempts to hunt them down and exterminate them. Many hundreds died along the route.

Also walking is a member of the battalion of Dutch UN peacekeepers whose task was to keep Srebrenica safe for its civilian inhabitants, holed up in the town for three years under siege from the Bosnian Serb army - but who ended up meekly handing their charges over to the Serb soldiers to be executed.

"The point of it is for the survivors to refresh their memories," Mr Abdurahman Malkic, the Bosniac mayor of Srebrenica who flagged the march off at 7 am yesterday, told The Independent, "and to tell others who have never been here before what exactly happened."

There will be lectures along the way, describing events at Srebrenica and afterwards. Doctors who treated survivors will talk of their experiences, some of the survivors will relate how they stayed alive.

They will trudge into Srebrenica itself tomorrow afternoon - a few hours ahead of the 50,000 expected to flock to this town on Monday for a solemn ceremony commemorating the atrocities of 10 years ago.

Srebrenica's population before the war was 70 per cent Muslim. After the Bosnian Serb troops overran much of Bosnia, the town became one of the UN's so-called safe areas, garrisoned by peacekeepers as its population, swelled by refugees from villages and towns that had already been defeated, suffered more than three years of siege.

Finally in July 1995 the Serb troops arrived, menacing the UN-manned observation posts in the hills to the south of the town with their artillery. The peacekeepers surrendered the posts without firing a bullet. It was a foretaste of the craven behaviour to come. Srebrenica occupies a long narrow valley, wooded hills rising steeply on both sides. Once the Serb artillery had swarmed along the ridges of the hills, they had the town at their mercy, and began pummelling the houses with tanks and mortars. Today the town is still littered with shattered houses; new or rebuilt ones, many of them only half completed and unoccupied, are dotted among the ruins.

In panic, the population of 30,000 streamed north to the village of Potocari a few kilometres to the north, to the peacekeepers' base in a huge old battery factory. But the Dutch admitted only 5,000. The remaining 25,000 terrified civilians were forced to camp outside - where, over the succeeding days, the Bosnian Serb troops began implementing their miniature Final Solution.

Women and small children were put in buses and sent away to safety; men, including the aged, infirm, deranged and boys as young as 12, were taken away and shot.

Today life has returned to Srebrenica, but the town's scars are not just the visible ones of ruined houses and the signs crudely painted on the houses indicating "shelter". To push their policy of ethnic cleansing, the Republica Srpska - the Bosnian Serb entity within which the town falls - has filled many of the empty houses with Serb families.

Only a handful of Muslim families have returned. The Muslim mayor is officially a resident, but he actually lives with his family in the Bosniac-run city of Tuzla, two hours' away.

One who has returned is Abdulah Purkovic, 58, who has opened a small restaurant in the town where he used to own three. "The people who brokered Bosnia's peace in the Dayton peace accords made a monster state that is divided 1,000 different ways," he said. "They recognised and rewarded the fascist state of Republica Srpska and now nothing works properly: police, social security, education, nothing.

"For example, if Bosniac children want to move back here, they have to take 15 different exams before the school will accept them because the systems are different. If I want to go to hospital in Sarajevo, I have to pay because it's in a different canton. Srpska was built out of our blood - they expelled us from our houses and land - and now they call everything 'Serb' this and 'Serb' that."

Nevertheless, the bitterness is slowly receding. "Relationships with the Serbs are better than before. When I first came, nobody wanted to work for me. People I knew well just looked into space when I passed them in the street. But now some people behave normally, not tough like they used to before. They explain that many of them were pushed into the war, pushed into the front line. They tell me they had no choice in the matter. And I believe them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor