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Thousands Commemorate 12th Anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre

An estimated 30,000 people gathered near the Bosnian town of Srebrenica Wednesday to bury 465 newly identified victims and remember Europe's worst massacre since World War II. Up to 8,000 Muslims were killed when Serb forces overran the town of Srebrenica in 1995 at the height of the Balkan conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Stefan Bos reports on the ceremony for VOA from Budapest.

As prayers were being said, some of the mourners sat crying in the rain near the rows of coffins of the newly discovered 465 victims of the Srebrenica massacre. The funeral ceremony was held at the memorial center in Potocari, a suburb of Srebrenica. It is a large graveyard, decorated by huge marble blocks on which the names of victims are engraved.

Bare marble blocks stand next to the engraved ones, waiting for new names of as many as eight-thousand Muslim men and boys who were killed in this area. They were separated from women and girls on July 11, 1995, by Serb forces who overran Srebrenica as outgunned Dutch United Nations peacekeepers looked on.

The massacre focused world attention on the "ethnic cleansing" that was taking place during the Balkan wars of the 1990s that marked the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Among those participating in Wednesday's ceremony was Hasan Nuhanovic, a Bosnian Muslim who worked as a translator for the Dutch U.N. forces. He said he survived because, as a translator for the Dutch forces, he was protected by the troops. His father could also have stayed, but he decided to leave with his wife to join another son who had been forced out of the Dutch military base. Hasan learned only last month that his father died in the massacre. He still does not know what happened to his mother, brother and other relatives.

Hasan told Dutch television it was a painful decision to bury his father Wednesday. "Many families have a big dilemma of what to do. Whether they should bury just one part of the (skeletal) remains, or they should wait for more remains to be found, so joined. It's a quite a painful process for all of us. In my father's case they said they found 75 percent of his skeletal remains. So I decided that he should be buried," he said.

And he said there will be more burials he will have to take care of. "Some, you know, of those scientists who are studying this phenomena say this is kind of a closure. But I don't see it as a closure. I had to do other things as well. I had to contact this company that deals with burials, to ask them to reserve another three graves next to [my father's] grave, otherwise there will be a problem in the future. It means one grave needs to be reserved for my mother, another one for my brother."

The U.N.'s chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, has been pressuring Serbian authorities to step up efforts to find those responsible for the killings in Srebrenica.

Topping her most-wanted list are Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic. Both have been charged with genocide and both remain in hiding.

In a related development, Bosnia's new peace overseer, Miroslav Lajcak, earlier this week fired a senior Bosnian Serb police official and suspended 35 active Serb police officers for their alleged involvement in the Srebrenica massacre.