Bosnian Muslims Recall Executions


New York Times

July 12, 2005

SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 11 - At a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the execution of about 7,000 Muslim men and boys here during the war in Bosnia, American and European leaders again promised that two Bosnian Serb leaders indicted for the killings would be brought to justice. But many of the 30,000 Bosnian Muslims who gathered here today dismissed the promises as empty.

"I don't believe anymore that anyone loves us," said Zada Pasalic, a 63-year-old woman whose brother was among 610 execution victims buried here today after being identified by DNA. "I lost my faith in them a long time ago. They promise so much and gave so little."

In 1993, the United Nations declared Srebrenica the world's first civilian "safe area," stripped its soldiers of their heavy weapons and promised to protect the enclave. Three years later, Serb forces overwhelmed 370 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers, seized control of the enclave and killed virtually every man and boy they captured.

At a somber ceremony under a gray sky that sprinkled rain on diplomats, mourners and graves, British and United Nations officials apologized for the failure of the international community to protect the town a decade ago. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, made the most direct statement, saying it was "a shame on the international community that this evil took place under our noses."

"I particularly regret this," said Mr. Straw. "And I deeply sorry for it."

Mark Malloch Brown, a senior United Nations envoy sent to represent Secretary General Kofi Annan, said United Nations officials made "serious errors of judgment" in Srebrenica that stemmed from "a philosophy of nonviolence and neutrality that was unsuited for the war in Bosnia," a brutal conflict that killed 200,000 people.

Mr. Malloch Brown said the international community failed to provide the United Nations with the military forces it needed in Bosnia. He also said that United Nations officials, who have been bitterly criticized by survivors of Srebrenica, failed to use the military assets they had.

"There should have been more military force in place," he said. "There should have been more willingness to use them."

In his public address, the American representative at the ceremony, Pierre-Richard Prosper, the United States ambassador for war crimes issues, said he was attending the ceremony with "deep reflection." But he offered no apologies for the fall of the town. Srebrenica survivors have said that, as the world's largest military power, the United States should have done more to strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Asked in a subsequent press conference about the British and United Nations statements, Mr. Prosper said the United States viewed the fall of the town with "deep regret." But he and Richard Holbrooke, the former American diplomat who negotiated the peace agreement ending the war in Bosnia, said the fall of Srebrenica was the "responsibility of the international community as a whole" and not the United States alone.

The families gathered here to bury the remains of 610 men exhumed from mass graves and identified through DNA testing gave mixed reactions. Some, enveloped in the process of mourning, said they appreciated the international presence here but had paid little attention to the statements. Other reacted with anger, saying the international community was continuing to betray the town by failing to fully rebuild it, or arrest the two Serbs indicted for the killings, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

"Why don't they capture all the war criminals who are out there moving around?" said a man who asked to be identified as only "a Srebrenica survivor."

As he spoke, hundreds of men formed two long lines and then passed all 610 coffins hand to hand from a field where they were stacked to open graves. At the same time, Bosnian men and women announced the name, father's name and birthdate of each of the 610 dead over the loudspeakers.

Bosnian government officials say 8,100 people have been reported missing from Srebrenica. To date, 2,070 have been identified. Twenty-two mass graves have been found, but not yet identified. A commission established to identify the dead says they will run out of financing in two years and be unable to complete their work. Mr. Prosper said the United States, which has been the top money provider for the commission, would consider additional funding in the future.

Throughout the ceremony, hundreds of Serb policeman provided security. Some Muslims complained, saying they believed some of the same men involved in the killings are now policeman. But international officials said the Bosnian Serb police acted professionally.

Bosnia's senior Islamic religious leader, Mustafa Ceric, delivered an address calling for mourning and reconciliation. He told mourners and survivors that "revenge is not of our religion" and "revenge is not of the Bosnian way of life."

"May grief become hope," he said. "May revenge become justice. May mothers' tears become prayers that Srebrenica never happens again."