- Associated Press - Sunday, July 11, 2010

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina | Hoisting hundreds of coffins aloft, a line of weeping relatives stretched for at least a mile Sunday as they honored Srebrenica massacre victims on the 15th anniversary of the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

A whole hillside in the eastern Bosnian town was dug out with graves, waiting for 775 coffins covered in green cloths to be laid to rest at the biggest Srebrenica funeral so far.

Still, that was less than a tenth of the total number of Muslim men and boys executed after Serb forces overran the U.N.-protected town on July 11, 1995, during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

“I grew up without a father, and I don’t even remember him,” said 16-year-old Hajro Ibrahimovic.

When the procession reached the hill, some 60,000 people splintered into rivulets as relatives sought the exact grave for their loved ones. The sound of dirt pounding against the coffins’ wooden lids echoed over the valley, as two announcers, one male and one female, solemnly read out the names of the victims being buried.

That took 64 minutes.

On that fateful day in 1995, some 30,000 Bosnian Muslims had flocked to the U.N. military base in the town’s suburb of Potocari for refuge. But when Serb forces came, they forced outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers to open the gates. The Serbs then separated out the Muslim men and boys, putting them on trucks and carting them away, the vast majority never to be seen again. The Dutch peacekeepers lived.

The Srebrenica memorial center now stands across the road from that former U.N. base.

Fifteen years later, no one represented the U.N. at the ceremony. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to reaffirm the United Nations‘ sorrow over what took place in Srebrenica at a commemorative event Monday, a spokesman said.

The youngest victim buried Sunday was 14, the oldest 78, joining nearly 4,000 already buried at the memorial center. All the bodies had been excavated from mass graves and identified through DNA tests.

Another 1,844 victims have been identified, but their skeletons consist only of a few bones and relatives are refusing to bury them before more fragments are found.

Several months after the massacre, Serb troops excavated the original mass graves with bulldozers and moved victims to other locations in a futile effort to conceal the evidence of war crimes. As the machines plowed up bodies, they ripped them apart and fragments of the same person can be scattered among several sites.

Before the funeral, Muslim prayers and weeping mixed with the speeches of dignitaries condemning the crimes and calling for the perpetrators to be punished — something victims’ families noted would not change the suffering they have endured.

Ahmet Cesko, 58, managed to evade being killed at Srebrenica by fleeing to government territory through the woods amid a manhunt by Serb troops. He came to pay his respect to comrades who did not survive the dangerous five-day hike.

Serb ambushes were set mainly next to creeks, he recalled, “like when you hunt animals, you wait next to water holes.”

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