Bosnia Marks 10th Anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre

Ten years ago, some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in what has come to be known as the Srebrenica massacre. The process of identifying victims found in mass graves continues. Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times reporter David Rohde in Srebrenica.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

There's a memorial service in central Europe today 10 years after the worst massacre on the continent since World War II. The killing was in the ethnic conflict of Bosnia-Herzegovina, part of the former Yugoslavia, where Serbs were trying to rid the land of their Muslim neighbors. Over a few days in July of 1995, Serb troops rounded up and executed more than 7,000 men and boys from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. New York Times reporter David Rohde was in Srebrenica following the massacre. He wrote a book about the event, "Endgame." He spent this weekend back in Srebrenica. He joins us now from ceremonies in Srebrenica.

David Rohde, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And what's happening there today?

Mr. DAVID ROHDE (The New York Times): They've just completed a solemn ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the mass killings here. Through DNA identification, they were able to identify 610 bodies that have been found in mass graves; those have been buried. There were various representatives here from the US and Europe, and the main issue is that the two Serb leaders indicted for carrying out these killings remain free here. There's tremendous frustration among Bosnian Muslims that they remain free 10 years later and that justice hasn't come here. There's also been some positive signs, too.

CHADWICK: That's Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Mr. ROHDE: That's correct. I'm actually standing on the former United Nations base here. This is were civilians and children fled and it was right at this spot where General Mladic promised the women and children that no one would be harmed and any man who gave himself up peacefully would survive. According to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, every single Bosnian Muslim man that was captured were executed. There were eight survivors from these mass executions, but at least 7,000 men were killed.

CHADWICK: In Srebrenica today, have Muslims returned? Are they living there with their Serb neighbors?

Mr. ROHDE: That's one of the remarkable things and that's a very positive story coming out of here, which surprised me. I never thought I'd be back here 10 years from these, you know, terrible events and find Muslims here. But about 2,900 Muslims have moved back to Srebrenica. They are living alongside their Serb neighbors. There are Serb and Muslim teen-agers going to the same discotheques in Srebrenica town. It's a remarkable thing.

It's probably a credit to the American military. There were American troops patrolling this area until last December, and they provided excellent security which I think made it easier for Muslims to come back. And it's also a credit, you know, to the people here where they're sort of looking toward the new future and trying to move beyond the crimes here. And there's a sense that if these two leaders could be arrested, you know, that Bosnia could, with continued international help, be a success story over time.

CHADWICK: So 2,900. There had been perhaps 40,000 Muslims living there, but 2,900 is something at least.

Mr. ROHDE: It is. And what's happened also is that the town's very depressed now and there's very few jobs. Many Serbs that were here before--what the Serbian sort of nationalist leadership tried to do was move Serbs from other parts of the country here to create an all-Serb Srebrenica. Serbs that actually lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, a very sort of cosmopolitan, multiethnic city, didn't like it living here, and they've all left. So there's only about 4,000 Serbs and now 2,900 Muslims. And there's a sense that if the Muslims continue to return, they'll be the majority again.

And I've spoken to local Serbs. They're uncomfortable on days like this, but they've sort of accepted that they're going to live together. There's some growing bitterness towards the nationalists here that they, you know, expected a well-run and a flourishing Serb-only state. Instead, they're sort of left in their limbo now where there's very few jobs and they are again living with Muslims and there is reconciliation occurring on a very small scale.

CHADWICK: With all that goes on in the world, I think we may forget how dangerous and desperate circumstances seem there 10 years ago. You were taken prisoner and held by these Serb troops for several days, weren't you? Weren't you feeling a little anxious to go back there?

Mr. ROHDE: It's surprising. I haven't felt anxious. And I was arrested at a mass grave that survivors had told me the location and I went and found it. Before I could leave the site, a Serb guard arrested me. What's really remarkable about the security situation here is that most of the police in this part of Bosnia are Serbs, and the majority of the security provided today at this Muslim memorial was Serb policemen. And the Serb policemen are being professional. There were no incidents today. There were some efforts by some angry Muslims to provoke the Serb police, but it didn't happen.

And there is--I feel comfortable here. Muslims who live here now say they feel some unease, but that the police generally are doing their jobs. And again at the same time, they're trying to integrate the police force in Srebrenica, and now 40 percent of the police in this town are Muslims, also. So it's surprising to me. It's hopeful to me. The American troops here helped. You know, it's hard to know what will happen, but I did not expect to find Muslims back in this town. I did not expect to find Serb police, you know, guarding this ceremony.

CHADWICK: This was such a site of controversy for the whole idea of international peacekeeping because the Muslims said the UN and specifically the Dutch peacekeeping troops there just completely failed to protect them in their hour of desperation. But I think what you're saying now is that over 10 years, it looks much better for the whole idea of international peacekeeping.

Mr. ROHDE: Yeah, I guess the lesson of Srebrenica is the international community can do terrible things. And in 1995 during the war, the UN actually disarmed the Muslims in this town--it was a surrounded enclave--and promised to protect them. They didn't keep that promise; the men were executed.

Today, you see where a different, I guess, more efficient, better thought-out foreign intervention is slowly producing gains here where Muslims are returning. So, you know, it just shows that there can be a huge impact from the international community, you know, for better or for worse, and right now it's for better.

CHADWICK: David Rohde, a reporter for The New York Times, speaking with us from Srebrenica on the 10th anniversary of the massacre there.

David, thank you.

Mr. ROHDE: Thank you.

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CHADWICK: Over the weekend, American bike racer Lance Armstrong lost the lead in the Tour de France, but expert race watchers say it's only a temporary setback.

Mr. JACK WILCOCKSON (Author, "23 Days in July"): I fully expect Armstrong to take the yellow jersey back probably tomorrow.

CHADWICK: The racers are not riding today; they are resting before beginning a series of mountain rides. We'll have more on the Tour de France, including a ride in one of the team cars that follow and support the racers. This is where you want to be to see the Tour de France. That's coming up in a few minutes on DAY TO DAY.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick, and NPR's DAY TO DAY continues in just a moment.

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