Bosnia Marks 20 Years Since Srebrenica Genocide; Serbian PM Pelted By Crowd
July 11, 2015
Tens of thousands of people have gathered near the town of Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to mark the 20th anniversary of Europe's worst mass killing since the Holocaust.
Dozens of dignitaries -- including Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu -- were in eastern Bosnia for the July 11 ceremony.
But the event was marred by a crowd throwing stones and other objects at the Serbian prime minister, whose country, along with ally Russia, has staunchly opposed calling the Srebrenica massacre at the hands of Bosnian Serbs a genocide.
Vucic was forced to flee as the hurled objects sent members of his delegation running for their cars on a hill nearby the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and cemetery.
A spokeswoman later said Vucic had been hit in the face with a stone and his glasses broken.
'I regret that something like this has happened,' Vucic said upon his return to Belgrade. 'I regret that some did not recognize our sincere intention to build a sincere friendship between Serbs and [Muslim] Bosniaks.'
'My hand remains outstretched and I will continue with my policy of reconciliation,' he added.
Vucic had announced he would attend the event only after assurances from UN Security Council members Russia and China that they would not allow a UN resolution 'humiliating' Serbia and Republika Srpska to be adopted.
Earlier this week, Russia vetoed a British-drafted text that would have called on the Security Council to recognize Srebrenica as genocide.
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic characterized the incident as an 'assassination attempt,' while Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said it was an attack against 'all of Serbia and its policy of peace and regional cooperation.'
There were reports earlier of scattered booing as Vucic arrived, but he was greeted by a welcoming line that included mothers and other family members of Srebrenica's victims, one of whom exchanged an embrace before another placed a commemorative flower in Vucic's lapel.
A former nationalist who publicly embraces pro-European policies, Vucic has gone further than many Serbian politicians to express regret over the Srebrenica killings.
In a statement issued ahead of the commemoration, Vucic called the Srebrenica massacre a 'monstrous crime' but avoided any reference to a genocide.
'There are no words to express the regret and pain for the victims as well as the anger and bitterness towards those who committed that monstrous crime,' Vucic said. 'Serbia clearly and unambiguously condemns this horrible crime and is disgusted with all those who took part in it.'
The remains of 136 recently identified victims were being laid to rest as part of the ceremony at the memorial complex together with the more than 6,000 other victims who have already been exhumed from mass graves.
The UN International Court of Justice ruled in 2007 that the massacre was genocide.
During the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, the United Nations set aside Srebrenica as a safe haven for civilians. But on July 11, 1995, Serbian troops overran the town and the Dutch peacekeepers despatched there. In the ensuing days, Bosnian Serb forces killed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys.The bodies were scattered in more than 90 mass graves in a bid to mask the scale of the killings.
More Than A 'Memory Of Tragedy'?
Clinton told attendees at the memorial ceremony on July 11 that the genocide at Srebrenica 'finally stirred all the members of NATO to support the military intervention that was clearly necessary to end the slaughter, to trigger peace talks, to put Bosnia-Herzegovina back on the long road to a normal life.'
He added, 'The work I did here as president, and later in Kosovo, was among the most important things I did. I grieve that it took us so long to unify all of your friends behind [you] using the amount of force that was necessary to stop this violence.'
Clinton also praised Vucic for bravely attending despite the circumstances.
'As a friend of Bosnia, I want to thank the prime minister of Serbia for having the courage to come here today,' Clinton said, 'and I think it is important that we acknowledge that. It may or may not work out.'
He added, 'I am begging you not to let this monument to innocent boys and men become only a memory of a tragedy. I ask you to make it a sacred trust, where all people here can come and claim the future for this country of unity, freedom, democracy, greater prosperity, and a government that is both capable and honest, working for the benefit of all people.'
Serbs, Russians Reject Genocide Label
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic called Moscow's veto of the UN resolution calling Srebrenica a genocide 'a great day for Serbia.'
Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik also thanked Moscow for its veto, saying it 'prevented the adoption of a resolution that would have complicated the situation and deepened divisions within Bosnia.'
Dodik has called the internationally acknowledged number of Srebrenica victims a 'lie.'
After the war, Bosnia-Herzegovina was established as a federal state consisting of two largely autonomous entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the largely ethnic-Serbian Republika Srpska. Srebrenica is in Republika Srpska.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and RFE/RL's Balkan Service
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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