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Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Commemorates Europe's Worst Massacre Since WW II - 2003-07-11


The prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity in Bosnia Herzegovina has for the first time participated in ceremonies to commemorate Europe's worst massacre since World War Two.

The arrival in Srebrenica of Prime Minister Mikerevic of Republika Srpska, the Serb-run part of Bosnia Herzegovina,was seen as a first step towards overcoming the wounds of a massacre many ethnic Serbs deny ever took place.

War investigators say up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces who overran the town in 1995 when outgunned Dutch United Nations peacekeepers fled the area. Their withdrawal embarrassed the Netherlands and eventually lead to the fall of the Dutch government, following an investigation.

The victims' bodies were dumped in mass graves throughout the region, and only recently a process has begun to give them proper burials.

On Thursday thousands of mourners stood silently in Sarajevo, as refrigerated trucks carried 300 bodies of newly-identified victims from a morgue in the central town of Visoko, through the capital for Friday's funeral ceremony. Their destination was a new cemetery dedicated to those who died, in what has been called one of Europe's worst atrocities since the Second World War.

The first 600 bodies, identified by DNA analysis, were already buried earlier this year at the cemetery at Potocari, located just outside Srebrenica.

However over 5,000 body bags filled with human bones are still awaiting identification and remain in morgues in the northern town of Tuzla, and Visoko near Sarajevo.

The attendance of the Bosnian Serb prime minister at Friday's ceremony in Srebrenica did little to ease the pain of survivors, with some saying a grave was all that was left of their loved once.

Although the international community has encouraged Muslims to come back to Srebrenica, only a small fraction of 27,000 Muslims who lived in the Muslim enclave have returned, since the end of a three-year war that ravaged the country in the 1990s.

The Srebrenica massacre is one of the main charges brought against Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and his military chief general Ratko Mladic, who are still at large, despite the presence of thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers in the region.

On Monday, Paddy Ashdown, who is responsible for implementing the terms of the Dayton peace accord, froze the bank accounts of Mr. Karadzic's family, saying he was raising the pressure on one of the world's most wanted men.

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