Attack on Serbia PM mars Srebrenica massacre anniversary

Attack on Serbia PM mars Srebrenica massacre anniversary
Bodyguards try to protect Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (centre) from stones hurled at him by an angry crowd at the Potocari Memorial Center, near the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on July 11, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Hercegovina - An angry crowd disrupted a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia, hurling stones at Serbia's premier and forcing him to flee the event marking Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had just laid a flower at a monument for the thousands of victims identified and buried there when the crowd started chanting 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) and throwing stones, forcing the Serbian leader to run for cover shielded by his bodyguards.

Serbia's Tanjug state-run news agency said Vucic was hit on the head by a stone and had his glasses broken.

Vucic, whose country backed Bosnian Serbs during and after the 1990s inter-ethnic war in Bosnia, was among numerous dignitaries, including former US president Bill Clinton, and tens of thousands of people attending the commemoration in the eastern Bosnian town.

Shortly before arriving, Vucic condemned the "monstrous crime" in Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces who captured Srebrenica in July 1995, near the end of the war.

Serbia quickly reacted to the incident, calling the stone-throwing in neighbouring Bosnia an attack against the country.

"It is an attack not only against Vucic but against all of Serbia and its policy of peace and regional cooperation," Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement.

Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have long denied the extent of the killing in Srebrenica, although two international tribunals have described the bloodshed as genocide - a massive killing not seen since the German Nazi regime and its concentration camps during World War ii.

In 1995 Srebrenica was supposedly a UN-protected "safe haven" but the Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic brushed aside the lightly armed Dutch UN peacekeepers.

The slaughter was followed a few months later by the Dayton peace deal, brokered by the Clinton administration, which ended the 1992-1995 conflict which cost the lives of an estimated 100,000 people.

'I still cry'

On Saturday, the remains of 136 newly-identified victims were laid to rest alongside more than 6,000 others already buried at a memorial centre just outside the town of Srebrenica.

In most cases only body parts of the Srebrenica victims have been found, as their bones were moved from mass graves to so-called "secondary" graves in a bid to hide the scale of the atrocity.

Begajeta Salihovic came to bury her father, whose remains were found in two such sites.

"His skeleton is still not complete but we decided to bury him since we want to give him a trace," said Salihovic, 51, whose brother was also killed in the massacre. Her two other brothers were killed at the start of the 1992-1995 war, but their remains were never found.

Two decades ago Kadira Salkic lost her three sons and husband in the ill-fated town.

"Only God knows how I manage to continue to live ... I still cry," the 75-year-old whispered.

"I have a feeling that I do not see clearly due to tears ever since they disappeared. But there is nothing I can do. Even if I would die it would not make them come back."

Genocide dispute

lthough the atrocity occurred 20 years ago, debate continues to rage over its description as genocide.

In 2005, then-Serbian president Boris Tadic attended ceremonies marking the massacre's 10th anniversary, becoming the first leader from his country to visit the site.

Then in 2010, the Serbian parliament condemned the massacre, and three years later Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic made a personal apology.

But all of Serbia's leaders, including Vucic, a former ultranationalist-turned-pro-European, have persistently refused to acknowledge the massacre as genocide.

Earlier this week Western powers clashed with Russia on the topic when Moscow - after lobbying by Serbia and Bosnian Serbs - vetoed a draft UN resolution submitted by Britain which called for the Security Council to recognise the Srebrenica mass killing as genocide.

Along with Serbian President Nikolic, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik welcomed the Russian veto.

He thanked Moscow for "preventing the adoption of a resolution that would have complicated the situation and deepened divisions within Bosnia".

Two decades on, Bosnia is still frozen in the ethnic divisions that fuelled its civil war, and lags behind its Balkan neighbours in its bid to join the European Union.

After much arm-twisting by the international community, Bosnia emerged from the bloody conflict as a federal state but its leaders have failed to reconcile its communities.

The country consists of two semi-autonomous entities - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the ethnic Serbs' Republika Srpska. Srebrenica has remained in the Serb-run half.

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