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
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all