Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Reconciliation takes step forward at Bosnian burial

REUTERS , SREBRENICA, BOSNIA

A Bosnian woman weeps as the coffins of 282 Srebrenica victims are lowered into fresh graves on Friday in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

PHOTO: REUTERS

About 15,000 Bosnians gathered on Friday to bury 282 Muslim men and boys killed in the Srebrenica massacre eight years after Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

For the first time, a Bosnian Serb government delegation attended the religious ceremony to mark the anniversary in an eastern Bosnian field near where Serb soldiers divided Muslim women from the men who were to be slaughtered.

"I came here because I regard it to be my moral duty," said Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic in remarks certain to be welcomed by Western officials seeking to foster reconciliation in the still ethnically divided country.

Women wept as the coffins, draped in traditional Islamic green fabric, were lowered into fresh graves alongside 600 victims buried in March.

The graveyard will become the biggest burial place of Muslims killed in the 1992-95 war.

Family members came from across Bosnia and from abroad to bid farewell to their husbands, sons and fathers

"Let me see my sunshine for the last time," cried the mother of Safet Salihovic as relatives prevented her from going down into her son's grave before the coffin was covered with earth. He was buried next to his cousin.

In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces captured the predominantly Muslim town, which had been declared a UN "safe area," and went on to kill up to 8,000 Muslims. So far, 1,000 victims have been identified by DNA analysis.

A report by a Bosnian Serb government committee sparked outrage last year by suggesting that Muslims imagined or fabricated the massacre, putting the number of dead at up to 2,500 and saying most of them were soldiers.

Mikerevic said his government was preparing a new report but stopped short of saying the previous one was wrong, saying it had showed that a crime was committed in Srebrenica and that this was important for reconciliation.

"It is important that Srebrenica is no longer a taboo. We need to draw a lesson for the future from this," he said.

Bosnia's top Muslim cleric, Mustafa Ceric, led the prayers, observed by local officials and foreign diplomats alike.

"May revenge become justice, may mothers' tears become prayers that Srebrenica never happens again to no one and nowhere," he said.

Sounds of weeping and whispers broke the silence as children and other family members read out the names of the dead. Each coffin held bones dug up from dozens of mass graves, including the remains of two 14-year-old boys.

"My heart is tearing apart," said Fatija Osmanovic, 49, who buried her husband and a brother.

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