- Title: FILE: 15 years since the fall of Srebrenica
- Date: 10th July 2010
- Summary: POTOCARI, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (RECENT - JULY 5, 2010) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF WORKERS AND MACHINES DIGGING GRAVES IN CEMETERY GROUP OF MEN AND WOMEN PRAYING NAMES OF MASSACRE VICTIMS ENGRAVED ON MEMORIAL STONE MEN DIGGING NEW GRAVE BETWEEN EXISTING GRAVES WITH WHITE MARKERS
- Embargoed: 25th July 2010 13:00
- Topics: History
- Reuters ID: LVA2L7HRLB5B3BYMCXEF8C3HPWXG
- Story Text: July 11, 2010 marks the 15th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. On that date in 1995, Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica, a town that had been declared a U.N. "safe area." The killings that followed are seen as Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.
War had broken out in Bosnia in April 1992. The Bosnian Serb army (VRS) swept eastwards. Srebrenica, a town of 36,000 where Muslims made up 75 percent of the population, was taken over by Serb troops but Muslims regained it after several weeks.
Early in 1993, Serbs started an offensive on Muslim-held areas. Srebrenica and Zepa became isolated enclaves deep in Serb-held territory. Muslims from the area flocked to Srebrenica and the population swelled to 60,000. They had little food, water or medical supplies.
In April, Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde in eastern Bosnia were declared three of six U.N. "safe areas". The United Nations Protection Force UNPROFOR deployed troops and VRS attacks stopped. But the town remained isolated and only a few humanitarian convoys reached it in the following two years.
Then Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic ordered that Srebrenica and Zepa be entirely cut off and aid convoys be stopped from reaching the towns.
And on July 9, 1995, Karadzic issued a new order to conquer Srebrenica. Troops surrounded the enclave and attacked the observation posts of Dutch peacekeepers, taking about 30 soldiers hostage.
The following day, July 10, the VRS started shelling Srebrenica. The Dutch forces threatened the Serbs with NATO airstrikes if they did not withdraw by morning.
Another day later, NATO planes bombed Serb tanks outside Srebrenica. The VRS threatened to resume shelling and kill the captured Dutch soldiers. Air strikes stopped and in the evening of July 11, Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica.
An estimated 30,000 Moslem refugees packed around the Dutch peacekeeping base in Potocari, just north of the town of Srebrenica, after Bosnian Serb forces seized the "safe area"
Mladic sought to calm them, telling the crowd they did not have to be afraid. Bosnian Serb forces put the frightened refugees onto buses to leave.
Many of the refugees were evacuated to Kladanj, 50 km (30 miles) away on the edge of government-held territory. There weeping Bosnian Muslim refugees began walking in their search to find shelter.
The United Nations quickly noticed that most of the refugees arriving on government-held territory from the Srebrenica enclave were women, children, and the elderly, and became concerned about the fate of the men of Srebrenica.
"We know that we have another 2-3,000 in Kladanj, on their way, and others may be coming. The second major problem is the whereabouts of the men. This is a group mostly composed of women, elderly, and children. We have reports, but we cannot confirm, that there may be thousands of them in Bratunac, we have been asking for access, we have not been given access. We have international staff. But evidently, the whereabouts, the fate, and the non-access to many men, thousands of men, is also a matter of deep concern," said Soren Jessen-Petersen, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in New York.
Tuzla airport on government territory was turned into a refugee camp, where mainly women and children found safety.
About 15,000 Bosnian Muslim soldiers and male civilians left Srebrenica overnight, marching through the hills to reach Muslim-held territory. Many died from shelling and sniper fire. Some government soldiers reached a camp near Tuzla.
Over the week followed the fall of Srebrenica, a total of about 8,000 men and boys from the enclave are estimated to have been killed by Bosnian Serb forces in detention or while trying to flee through the woods. Men were crammed into warehouses, schools and barns in the area outside Srebrenica. They were shot and buried in mass graves.
Fifteen years after the killings, mass graves are still being found. Identification of the bodies is difficult: bodies were broken up by excavators that bulldozed them into mass graves. Bodies were also moved from the original graves to secondary locations to conceal the crime. Forensic experts painstakingly work through what is left of the bodies found in the hundreds of mass graves that have been discovered in the area.
Karadzic is among those charged by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague over Srebrenica. He is currently on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia on 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and violating the laws and customs of war stemming from the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He denies them all.
Mladic is still at large and sought for genocide at the enclave.
Every year on July 11, the remains of those who have been identified over the past year are buried at the Memorial Centre in Potocari. Now 775 fresh graves are being dug for this year's funerals.
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