SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina: Hundreds of people whispering Muslim prayers are lining Sarajevo’s main street as trucks bearing 409 coffins pass through on their way to Srebrenica, where the newly identified victims of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II will be buried.
Throngs of mourners reached out Tuesday to caress the canvas stretched over the coffins on three slow-moving trucks. When the vehicles stopped for a few minutes in front of the Bosnian Presidency building, people sobbed as they tucked in flowers.
The remains were identified through DNA tests and will be buried at a memorial center near Srebrenica yesterday, the 18th anniversary of the Serb massacre of over 8,000 Srebrenica Muslim men and boys, which the International Court of Justice calls a genocide.
The 1992-95 Bosnian war claimed over 100,000 lives.
The convoy was taking the coffins to the small village of Potocari near Srebrenica, where the victims will be buried in a ceremony.
In a silent tribute, relatives carried pictures and pillowcases with embroidered names of many of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the eastern Bosnian town in July, 1995.
“This is the most difficult day of my life, I would rather die, but I can not,” said Hedija Begovic whose only son will be among those buried at the Potocari memorial center.
During its passage, the convoy briefly stopped in front of the Bosnian presidency building where mourners, many in tears or saying Muslim prayers, laid flowers on the vehicles.
“These were 14 or 15-year old boys, fathers and their sons, elderly,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s post-war joint presidency.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim enclave until July 11, 1995, when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces who loaded thousands of men and boys on to trucks, executed them and then threw their bodies into mass graves.
The Serbs brushed aside lightly armed Dutch UN peacekeepers in the “safe area” where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered for protection.
The massacre has been judged an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.
The remains of 5,657 victims, identified through DNA tests after being found in several mass graves in the Srebrenica region, have already been buried in Potocari.
But many victims remain unidentified.
“I have yet to find my son, my husband, my brother, I have got no information for 18 years,” a tearful Safija Osmanovic said as she paid tribute to the victims.
“If only I can find a single bone to bury, to finally know where they rest,” she said.