Bosnia remembers massacre
Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, an event that still divides Muslims, Serbs.
CRNI VRH AND SREBRENICA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — Muhamed Omerovic points to the tops of the steep hills surrounding the Liplje valley in eastern Bosnia. Ten years ago, in the last months of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, he says, the hills were held by Bosnian Serbs, who were killing Muslim men in this valley just a few miles from Muslim-held territory.
"They let us all into this valley to finish us off," says Mr. Omerovic, who survived a 45-mile trek from Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia that fell to the Serbs 10 years ago Monday. After six days of hiding and eating grass, and six nights of walking through minefields and countless ambushes, he and a few friends were able to sneak through the Serb lines to safety. Others didn't make it, and Muslim men who'd stayed behind, in what had been a UN-designated "safe area," were executed by Serb troops, police, and paramilitaries. The final tally: some 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed.
Omerovic is one of several hundred survivors making a symbolic three-day trek back through the woods to Srebrenica. There, organizers expect some 50,000 people Monday for the 10th anniversary commemoration and burial of remains of 583 massacre victims. Security for the ceremony will be tight. Acting on a tip, police last week removed almost 80 pounds of explosives near the memorial where about 2,000 identified victims have already been buried. European Union (EU) peacekeepers will be backing up the 1,500 local police securing the ceremony.
For survivors of what's been deemed "genocide," the commemoration is vital. The head of Bosnia's Islamic community, Mustafa Ceric, issued a decree on Friday that no one should forget what happened here, he wrote, so that "genocide will never happen to anyone, anywhere, ever again."
But it also highlights the rifts that still remain. In a country that was divided politically into a Muslim-Croat Federation and Serb Republic by the US- brokered peace agreement, Serbs and Muslims in this part of the Serb Republic tend to see things differently.
Ten years on, Srebrenica is Bosnia's flashpoint of pain and blame. Back then, the UN's several hundred lightly armed Dutch troops, who were supposed to protect the Muslims, offered little resistance to the Serb offensive. Omerovic could be speaking for thousands of Muslims here when he says: "I blame the Serbs and the Serb military for everything that happened, but after that I blame the UN - I don't trust them."
The town's unemployment rate - in a country where 4 in 10 people are out of work - hovers around 70 percent. In many Bosnian towns, pockmarks on buildings and bomb craters on streets are slowly disappearing; but in Srebrenica, many houses remain riddled with bullet fire and have smoke scars above their boarded-up windows.
But Serbs in the village of Kravica, 10 miles northwest of Srebrenica, say that their victims and their pain have been forgotten in light of the focus on the 10th anniversary of the massacre.
"Srebrenica, Srebrenica, Srebrenica - we have had it up to here," says Goran Gataric, an artist who painted the icons in the village's rebuilt Orthodox church. The church was turned into a charred ruin during an attack on Orthodox Christmas in 1993, led by Srebrenica's Muslim commander, Naser Oric. Some 50 villagers were killed.
On the grass next to the church, local Serbs Tuesday will be celebrating the Orthodox holiday of St. Peter's Day - and the liberation of Srebrenica - and preparing to unveil a nearby monument to their wartime dead. They say some 3,200 Serbs died in the greater Srebrenica area during the war.
But Muslims here say the monument, a 10-ft. concrete cross just off the narrow road to Srebrenica, is a provocation. On the other side of the road, 600 feet away, is a yellowish warehouse where witnesses and war-crimes tribunal investigators from The Hague say that the Bosnian Serbs executed some 1,000 Muslim civilians. Locals also say the Serbs are including all their dead - civilians and soldiers - over three years, which they say can't compare to the Srebrenica massacre.
"Whoever tells you anything different about Srebrenica is lying," says Senahit Hasanovic, a former miner who survived the death march. He still shudders at the thought of the executions he survived. "When you stand in a line of 10 people, and they've killed eight, and you know, one more and then me...." he says, trailing off.
The executions received worldwide attention a month ago, when tribunal prosecutors showed a videotape of a Serbian paramilitary unit lining up six bound young Muslim men and shooting them in the days after Srebrenica fell. The Serbian government quickly arrested a dozen men thought to be the former paramilitaries on the tape. And in recent months they've turned over eight Serbs indicted by the tribunal for crimes connected to Srebrenica.
But Bosnian Serb military and political leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, indicted for genocide by the tribunal, are still at large. Recent reports have placed them in neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, out of the jurisdiction of the 250 NATO soldiers or the 7,500 EU peacekeepers in Bosnia. American NATO troops Thursday arrested Mr. Karadzic's son Aleksandar on the grounds that he may be helping a tribunal fugitive.
Muslims point out that while former Srebrenica commander Naser Oric is on trial in The Hague for the Orthodox Christmas attack on Kravica and for razing some 50 Serb villages, they say that hundreds of Srebrenica massacre perpetrators are walking free in eastern Bosnia. Namir Poric, an aid worker in nearby Bratunac, says: "To kill that many people takes great organization. Those people who drove [the victims], those who dug the graves - those aren't small numbers, it's a lot of people."
Still, survivors seem patient. "I've never had revenge on my mind," Omerovic says. "There's no place where revenge has fixed things."
"I believe in God," he adds. "I'm the kind of guy who wants to stop this religious or national hatred, because a believer of any faith can't hate even one other believer of another faith."