Mass funeral for Srebrenica massacre victims

Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims pray for the dead on the 14th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

Srebrenica graves 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Srebrenica graves 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
On the 14th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II, tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims prayed for the dead in Srebrenica and buried hundreds more recovered bodies on Saturday. Family members laid the remains of 534 victims to rest, removed recently from mass graves, next to the existing 3,297 graves at the Srebrenica-Potocari memorial center. Visitors and dignitaries prayed for the 8,100 Muslim men and boys who were killed in Srebrenica over several days in 1995 when Serb forces overran the town. US Ambassador to Bosnia Charles English said President Barack Obama has called the Srebrenica slaughter "a stain in our collective consciousness," and that the world has to ask itself how this genocide could have happened. During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, the United Nations declared Srebrenica - which had been besieged by Serb forces throughout the war - a UN-protected safe area for civilians. A number Bosnians flocked there for protection. But in July 1995, Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the enclave. The outnumbered UN troops never fired a shot. They watched as Mladic's troops rounded up the population of Srebrenica and took the men away for execution. It has been described by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the darkest page in UN history. Every year, more victims' bodies are recovered from mass graves found in the area, identified through DNA analysis and buried. This year among the 534 victims, there are 44 teenagers. Four were 14 when they were killed. Kadrija Muminagic arrived from Germany to bury his nephew Saidin, who was 14 when he and his father ended up at the execution field somewhere around Srebrenica. Saidin's 16-year-old brother Sulejman was killed by a shell that landed close to their home a week before Srebrenica fell. Only the mother survived the massacre. She died three years later. "She died of sorrow," said Muminagic, who escaped the killing by hiding in the forest. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, has ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide. Former Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, is on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He claims he is not guilty for what happened. Mladic, also indicted on genocide charges, is still in hiding, apparently in Serbia. Belgrade has faced immense international pressure to arrest him. In Serbia, President Boris Tadic said that the main obligation to the victims is to punish those responsible and that Serbia is doing all it can to track Mladic and send him to the Hague tribunal. Tadic said all innocent victims must be respected "in order to create a better future for the Balkans, free of the war past." In 1995, about 15,000 men tried to escape the slaughter by fleeing over the mountains toward the safe town of Tuzla. They were hunted along their 65-mile (100-kilometer) walk; those caught were killed. At the time, Serb TV filmed the hunt and the footage was later used at the court as evidence. Many times it was aired on TV throughout the region. One section shows an elderly man, Ramo Osmanovic, caught by Serb soldiers and forced to call his son, Nermin - 16 years old at the time - to come out from the forest and surrender. The boy obeyed. Both have been found in mass graves and are being buried today. Saliha Osmanovic, 55, said she had seen her son Nermin last Friday at prayers in the mosque and that he told her everything will be fine. But her brother Fadil, who was standing behind her, whispered to the reporter later: "She is hallucinating for the last 14 years." Almira Ahmetovic came from the United States to honor the memory of her grandfather, who was found in a mass grave. Ahmetovic, of Chicago, Illinois, said she was a year old when he took her in his arms and joined the group of 15,000 men trying to escape Srebrenica. At some point he couldn't walk any more and passed the baby to somebody else, she does not know whom. Somehow she was reunited with her mother later and both escaped to the United States. A US congressional delegation was at the ceremony, led by Rep. Russ Carnahan of St. Louis, Missouri, who laid a wreath at the Memorial Stone.