SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Women wept yesterday as they finally buried husbands and sons 10 years after Europe’s worst massacre since World War II — funerals made possible by the excavation of mass graves of victims killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
An extraordinary gathering of 30,000 people — including the Serbian president — came to Srebrenica to mark the anniversary and honor the dead.
To the sound of Muslim prayers echoing across a sprawling green valley, family members wandered among 610 caskets of the most recently identified victims of the July 11, 1995, massacre, in which about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.
After a religious service, the caskets were passed from hand to hand toward the graves. The sound of dirt striking the coffins and the weeping of women competed with a voice reading the names of victims.
They were buried beside 1,330 existing graves at a memorial cemetery across from an abandoned car battery factory that was the wartime base for Dutch U.N. soldiers.
The Dutch were supposed to protect Srebrenica — a designated U.N. safe zone — from Serbian attacks during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. But outmanned and outgunned, the Dutch mission watched as Srebrenica’s men and boys were separated from the women and led away, to be slain and dumped into shallow graves that are still being discovered a decade later.
World leaders offered apologies yesterday and called for the arrests of top war crimes fugitives, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, and their extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
“It is the shame of the international community that this evil took place under our noses,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. “I bitterly regret this and I’m deeply sorry for it.”
On a fence, families of the dead hung a huge banner that read: “Europe’s shame — genocide. 8,106 murdered in Srebrenica.”
“The crimes that were committed here were not simply murders,” said Theodor Meron, president of the U.N. war crimes court. “They were targeted at a particular human group with the intent to destroy it. They were so heinous that they warrant the gravest of labels: genocide.”
There was no visible presence of Bosnian Serbs at the service, although Bosnian television aired it live.
Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the service — a significant gesture given Serbia’s political and military backing of the Bosnian Serbs during the war. He did not speak, but said earlier that his gesture should be considered an act of remorse to Srebrenica’s Muslims. He also has pledged to seek Gen. Mladic’s arrest.
In the nearby hamlet of Bratunac, Bosnian Serbs defended the actions of their troops and former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic — considered the main strategist of the Serbian wartime offensive.