Srebrenica massacre, 25 years on Muslims still face Serb denial

Srebrenica survivor Ramiz Nukic prays near the graves of his father and two brothers in Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 6, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 July 2020

Srebrenica massacre, 25 years on Muslims still face Serb denial

  • Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a few days after capturing the ill-fated town on July 11, 1995
  • Bosnian Serb wartime military chief general Ratko Mladic was sentenced to life in prison by a UN court in 2017 over war crimes including the Srebrenica genocide

SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Relatives of the Bosnian Muslims killed in the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II are getting ready to mark 25 years since the Srebrenica massacre on Saturday, but for many Serbs the episode remains a myth.
“It’s not easy to live here next to those who 25 years on deny that a genocide was committed,” says Hamdija Fejzic, Srebrenica’s Muslim deputy mayor.
For Bosnian Muslims, recognizing the scale of the atrocity is a necessity for lasting peace. But for most Serbs — leaders and laypeople in both Bosnia and Serbia — using the word genocide remains unacceptable.
Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a few days after capturing the ill-fated town on July 11, 1995.
The episode — labelled as genocide by two international courts — came at the end of a 1992-1995 war between Bosnia’s Croats, Muslims and Serbs that claimed some 100,000 lives.
Bosnian Serb wartime military chief general Ratko Mladic, still revered as a hero by many Serbs, was sentenced to life in prison by a UN court in 2017 over war crimes including the Srebrenica genocide. He is awaiting the decision on his appeal.
In the run-up to the anniversary, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described Srebrenica as “something that we should not and cannot be proud of,” but he has never publicly uttered the word “genocide.”
In July 2017, he said it was a “horrible crime” but added that “between 80 and 90 percent of Serbs do not think that a major crime was committed.”
Several thousand Serbs and Muslims live side by side in impoverished Srebrenica, a lifeless town in eastern Bosnia with just a few shops open in its center.
Mayor Mladen Grujicic was elected in 2016 after a campaign based on genocide denial — he said the number of victims was not “valid.”
“I claim here that the genocide was not committed,” Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik told a rally of support to Grujicic at the time.
In 2019, during a conference gathering mainly Serb historians and aimed at “establishing the truth” about Srebrenica, Dodik said it was a “myth.”
“Every people need a myth,” said Dodik. “Muslims didn’t have it and they try to build a myth around Srebrenica.”
Ethnic Serb lawmakers in the Bosnian parliament have consistently rejected bills that would ban genocide denial.
So far, the remains of nearly 6,900 victims have been found and identified in more than 80 mass graves.
Most were buried at the memorial cemetery in Potocari, a village just outside Srebrenica.
On Saturday, the remains of nine victims identified over the past year will be laid to rest by their families.
Deputy mayor Fejzic said denial of the genocide was like the “last phase” of the atrocity itself, telling AFP: “We are facing that every day.”
For European Union enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi the Srebrenica genocide was “still an open wound at the heart of Europe.”
“This part of European history must be upheld against any attempt at denial and revisionism,” he said this week.
Meanwhile, Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, who was also sentenced to life in prison in The Hague, remain heroes for many Serbs.
A university campus in Pale, Bosnian Serb wartime stronghold near Sarajevo, was named after Karadzic in 2016, and the plaque with his name at the entrance was unveiled by Dodik.
The 25th anniversary of genocide is also the “25th anniversary of denial,” said Emir Suljagic, director of the memorial center and a massacre survivor.
“Despite forensic evidence... and judgments by international courts, the denial of the Srebrenica genocide intensified,” he said.
Denial of genocide, he said, means a lack of accountability and will always lead to more atrocities.


Kabul begins freeing Taliban

Newly freed Taliban prisoners walk at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 13, 2020. Picture taken August 13, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2020

Kabul begins freeing Taliban

  • Release of final 400 inmates was approved by traditional Afghan grand assembly

KABUL: After months of delay, Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban inmates in its custody, clearing the way for long-awaited peace talks, officials confirmed on Friday.

Eighty of the 400 were set free on Thursday and, according to the government, more will be freed in the coming days. The release was a condition to begin intra-Afghan negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the war-torn country. The talks, already delayed twice, are expected to take place in Qatar once the release process is complete.
“The release was to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide cease-fire,” the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement accompanied by video footage showing former Taliban inmates calling on insurgent leaders and the government to engage in peace talks.
The prisoner release follows an agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar in February that stipulated the exchange of prisoners between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the militants, who have gained ground in recent years.
The process, involving 5,000 Taliban detainees held by Kabul and 1,000 security forces imprisoned by the militants, was slated to begin in early March and should have been followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani, initially resistant to the idea of freeing the Taliban inmates, began to release them under US pressure. Some 4,600 Taliban inmates were freed over the few past months, but Ghani refused to free the remaining 400, arguing they were behind major deadly attacks and that setting them free was outside his authority.
Faced by mounting pressure, after Eid Al-Adha holidays two weeks ago, the president vowed to summon a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help him decide if the remaining Taliban inmates should be freed or not.

FASTFACT

Footage showing men in uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban members went viral on social media this week, raising concerns that violence between security forces and the militants may impede the peace process despite the prisoner release.

Last week, the assembly approved the release, which is now underway and expected to be followed by the peace talks, in accordance with the US-Taliban deal.
The process, however, coincides with a spike in violence in the country and mutual accusations of an increase in assaults by the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said it was probing a video circulating on social media showing men in army uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban fighters.
The UN requested that the incident be investigated. It remains unclear when and where it took place.
The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of the Zabul province.
Concerns are rising that similar acts of violence will further delay the peace process.
“Let us hope that this video does not become part of revenge-taking between the two sides and affect the process of peace. It is really unfortunate,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal told Arab News.
“As the violence continues, we see more brutal and shocking tactics from the sides and examples of revenge-taking, and that is very worrying and impacts any trust in a peace process,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“It is on the leadership of the two sides to have clear messages to their fighters to avoid war crimes and actions that further the instinct for revenge that will make the reconciliation that should come out of a peace process difficult,” she added.

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