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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Srebrenica trapped by bloody past
By Nicholas Walton
BBC News, Srebrenica, Bosnia-Hercegovina

Srebrenica file photo
The town is beginning to rebuild, but much bitterness remains
A movement to get Srebrenica separate status from Republika Srpska is gathering momentum.

The city was the scene of a massacre in 1995, when Bosnian Serbs killed thousands of Muslim men and boys virtually in front of Dutch UN peacekeepers.

Today, the town is rebuilding. The best place for lunch is Abdullah's restaurant, a bustling place full of hungry locals, cigarette smoke and lots of chatter. The Becka Snicla (Wiener Schnitzel) and Kupus salad come highly recommended.

Abdullah was one of the first Muslims to return to Srebrenica, and now, on top of this thriving business, he is investing heavily in building the town's only hotel.

Other returnees have opened bakeries and moved back to abandoned farms in the remote hills of eastern Bosnia. But not everyone feels comfortable living in a town where so many bad things happened.

Link to massacre

"We can't just put it under the table and move on," explains Camil Durokovic, a smart, bearded young man who speaks perfect English. "I can't. Having my brothers and father killed, I can't live and work with those that did it."

Camil Durokovic, who wants Srebrenica's status changed
Camil Durokovic: "We can't just put it under the table"
Mr Durokovic is leading a movement to give Srebrenica special administrative status. At present it lies deep within the ethnic Serb half of Bosnia - Republika Srpska.

He says this entity is directly linked to the Bosnian Serb authorities who were responsible for killing thousands of men and boys who sought shelter in Srebrenica in July 1995.

He warns that the returnees will leave if Srebrenica is not given special status. "We will emigrate and abandon it to whoever wants to live here," he says.

A permanent protest camp is being set up in Sarajevo to keep the issue in the public gaze. If no progress is made Camil says the returnees will simply leave Srebrenica.

Srebrenica map
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

But it is far from certain that the majority of returnees will follow him.

There is no doubt that returning to Srebrenica is difficult for many. The town still bears the scars of war. Walls are riddled with bullet holes and the streets are dotted with burnt-out buildings.

Returnees also face psychological pressures.

"They'll walk down the street and people will say something under their breath or intimidate them by staring," explains Charlie Powell. He is the head in Srebrenica of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the institution the United Nations and European Union use to help run Bosnia.

"A lot of traumatised people worry that they'll see people who were involved in what happened in July 1995," Mr Powell points out. Some of those who took part in the killings - considered too low-level to prosecute - still live freely in Srebrenica.

But there are some signs of progress, including dozens of rebuilt houses and a multi-ethnic youth radio station. It is organised by the Friends of Srebrenica, an NGO run by Dragana Jovanovic.

'Political issue'

Most returnees are trying hard to rebuild their lives, she explains. But Srebrenica is such an emotive issue that it is often used as a political football.

Adis, a waiter in Srebrenica
Our economic future is more important - we are all Bosnians
Adis, waiter
"Srebrenica by itself is a very political issue," Ms Jovanovic argues. "You are not just an ordinary inhabitant - you are an inhabitant of a very special place."

Even the issue of Muslims returning to Srebrenica at all is political. Many pressure groups say nobody should return until a long list of grievances is addressed. And politicians are often quick to get involved if it suits their own political agendas.

"Common life and common sense is one thing," Ms Jovanovic points out. "Politics is something completely different."

For many of those who have returned justice is a high priority. Mass graves full of victims are still being discovered and excavated.

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, both of whom are indicted for war crimes in connection with the Srebrenica killings, are still fugitives from justice.

But there is little sign that dilemmas of politics and administrative status are as important for those who have decided to come back as trying to rebuild their lives.

Compared to jobs, education and security, the question of which institution administers Srebrenica is less important.

"Young people don't have jobs here," says Adis, the waiter at Abdullah's restaurant. "I am lucky because I have one, but my friends don't.

"For me the administration question is not important. Should Srebrenica be in Republika Srpska or not? Our economic future is more important. We are all Bosnians."

But in this country, Srebrenica is first and foremost a political issue. And what many of its ordinary residents want and what the politicians end up talking about are often two very different things.

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