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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July 2005, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Srebrenica's sombre ceremony
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Srebrenica

A child watches as a Bosnian Muslim woman digs a grave for a relative shortly before the burial

"I didn't want to come back here until I was able to give my son a proper burial," said Beguna Alic, 52, as she prepared to attend the ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the fall of the town of Srebrenica.

Ten years ago to the day she watched her husband and two sons disappear into the forested hills that surround the town, a designated United Nations "safe area" at the time, as Bosnian Serb troops closed in. Only one of them came back alive

"My son, Jasmin, made it. But I never saw my husband and other son alive again. Today, I am burying my son Atif."

Atif is just one of 610 people being buried in the vast memorial cemetery built for the victims of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were systematically slaughtered in the surrounding countryside when Bosnian Serb forces captured Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.

The small, lightly armed and demoralised UN troops from the Netherlands were powerless to defend the Muslim population.

Sombre ceremony

A decade on and only 2,000 of the victims have so far been identified.

Bosnian Muslim women mourn a relative in Potocari where the coffins of 610 victims of the Srebrenica massacre await burial
610 killed in Srebrenica were buried on Monday

For Monday's ceremony, coaches brought the widows and relatives of the victims from across Bosnia and beyond.

The coffins were laid end-to-end in the centre of the cemetery. Simple green clothes covered them.

They were small and light because, as is usually the case, only partial remains of the victims have been found.

Among the guests, the president of neighbouring Serbia, Boris Tadic, the first time such a senior politician from Belgrade had attended the anniversary commemoration.

But he did not make a speech, perhaps that would one step too far on such a sensitive occasion.

Nevertheless, his appearance was a significant gesture on the slow and painful road to reconciliation.


"We mourn the thousands killed here. It was to the shame of the international community that this evil took place under our noses and we didn't do enough to stop it," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, representing the European Union.

"I bitterly regret this and am deeply sorry for it," he said.

A children's choir, dressed all in white, sang Srebrenica Inferno - a moving moment for the thousands present.

And among those thousands one of the Dutch soldiers who was in Srebrenica the day it fell.

'Real mess'

Col Jerry Kremer was a surgeon with the Dutch military in the six months prior to the final battle for the town. This was his first time back since those dark days.

1: Bosnian Serb forces advance on Srebrenica. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims flee
2: More than 20,000 people flee to Potocari, seeking help from Dutch peacekeepers. But Serb forces enter the camp, killing the men and boys
3: Killing sites include a football field in Nova Kasaba
4: Thousands of males are killed trying to reach the Muslim-controlled city of Tuzla

"When I was last here in 1995, the circumstances were appalling. There were 5,000 refugees inside our compound. All hungry and thirsty."

"It was a place of crying people, smelly people. There were children born dead and alive. There were old people dying. There were people with terrible wounds from the mortar shells. It was a real mess. You can't describe it."

Ten years on and the two main, alleged perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre, the former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, remain on the run.

They are believed to be hiding in Serbia and Montenegro.

And at the end, when the VIPs had left, and the journalists had packed their bags, I watched two young women pushing yellow and red roses into the freshly turned earth of the graves.

They sat down next to each other and cried.

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