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Ten years ago, Bosnian Serb forces executed about 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. International horror at the massacre helped to end the Bosnian war but the men behind the killing, indicted war criminals General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are still at large. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
By July 1995, Srebrenica was a chronicle of a massacre foretold. Six hundred poorly equipped Dutch UN peacekeepers were unable to defend the so-called safe haven sheltering up to 60,000 Bosnian Muslims, and NATO failed to deliver promised air strikes against the besieging Bosnian Serbs. In a 1999 report, the UN admitted its failures, declaring the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt history forever.
One of the most chilling images of Srebrenica's collapse is a blustering Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic entering the town, patting little boys on the head and addressing the frightened population.
General RATKO MLADIC: (Through Translator) Please, be patient. All of those of you who want to stay may stay and all those who wish to leave this territory may leave. We've provided transportation, many buses and trucks.
POGGIOLI: In the next hours, Dutch peacekeepers turned over to Bosnian Serb forces thousands of Muslims who sought shelter in their camp. Tens of thousands of Muslims were bused out of the area, men and boys separated from the women. In nearby warehouses, schools, soccer fields and along the river, the executions were carried out. Natasa Kandic, a Serbian human rights activist who has courageously uncovered war crimes evidence, says everything points to a methodical step-by-step campaign of capture, transfer and execution.
Ms. NATASA KANDIC (Serbian Human Rights Activist): It could be not only based on the plan to send hundreds of Muslims to Treskavica, hundreds to other location who will take them, who will kill them, who will organize mass graves and later, later who will transfer the primary mass graves to the other locations.
POGGIOLI: Before the war, Srebrenica was a prosperous mining town. Its population was 36,000, 75 percent of which was Muslim. Today, officially there are 10,000 residents but now Serbs far outnumber Muslim returnees, and Srebrenica looks like a ghost town. Its buildings still show the signs of war and abandonment, its few inhabitants festering in grief and poverty. Mudadif Habibivic(ph) returned four years ago.
Mr. MUDADIF HABIBIVIC: (Through Translator) No life. We're on zero. Nobody has even looked at me just like I'm not here, while they do the same things like I do, just sit like this.
POGGIOLI: In the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war, Srebrenica ended up under Bosnian Serb control, but under Dayton's complex structure aimed at enforcing multiethnicity, Srebrenica's mayor is Muslim, elected by its prewar majority population. Abdurahman Malkic says relations with the governing Bosnian Serb authorities are very difficult.
Mr. ABDURAHMAN MALKIC: (Through Translator) The government of the Republic of Srebrenica wants to have this area as clean Serb area in long term.
POGGIOLI: But many of Srebrenica's Muslims don't want to come back. Most of them are women, widows, daughters without fathers and sisters without brothers. They're gathered in the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica. Vice President Kada Hotic, who now lives in Sarajavo, lost her husband Sayed(ph), her son Samir, two brothers and a brother-in-law. Her husband's body has been identified, but she's still searching for her son's remains. She and the other women are still demanding truth and justice, but she admits she had no reason to go back to Srebrenica.
Vice President KADA HOTIC: (Through Translator) I went to my flat on many occasions but I have very difficult memories of my son. I found a small sticker of the chopper that he put on the door when he was very small kid. This reminds me of him. So I ran away from there.
POGGIOLI: Every day buses arrive in Srebrenica with women coming to visit the graves of their beloved men. Only 2,000 bodies have been identified so far. Forensic experts are still matching human remains exhumed from mass graves with DNA samples of relatives of the 6,000 missing victims of Srebrenica.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Srebrenica, Bosnia.
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