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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SREBRENICA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (BosNewsLife)– U.S. President Barack Obama has urged the world to mourn the loss of thousands of victims of Europe’s worst massacre since World War Two, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the atrocity in the Bosnian town Srebrenica. “We can offer no solace that fully addresses the pain borne by the victims’ families. But we must look back at Srebrenica with clear eyes, commemorate the tragedy, and learn from it,” he said.
Foreign dignitaries started to arrive in Bosnia-Herzegovina to mark the commemoration and attend the funeral of 136 newly found victims. Coffins containing these remains were transported to the town. They were soon to be laid to rest in the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center & Cemetery, next to the remains of 6,241 others who have so far been identified.
The coffins were placed in an unused factory ahead of the service. Relatives, some crying, would be joined by some 50,000 people expected to mourn the the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in and around Srebrenica.
On July 11, 1995, Serb troops overran the Muslim enclave. Some 15,000 men tried to flee through the woods toward government-held territory while others joined the town’s women and children in seeking refuge at the base of the Dutch U.N. troops who were deployed to protect the town.But the United Nations did nothing to stop the fall of Srebrenica.
Outnumbered and outgunned Dutch troops watched as Serb soldiers separated about 2,000 men from women for killing and later hunted down and killed another 6,000 men in the woods.
Ahead of Saturday’s commemoration, the European Union’s enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn inaugurated in Brussels the photo exhibition “Women of Srebrenica”, showing the faces of 40 women from Srebrenica, who lost their loved ones in the massacre. “This exhibition shows portraits of 40 women of Srebrenica who have lost their loved ones. Husbands and sons,fathers and grandfathers,uncles and friends.,” he told survivors and others attending the exhibition.
“So with this striking portrait of grief we can only start to imagine their loss. We are honoring victims showing our deep respect. And we look in the mirror of the Europe’s and the world’s failure to protect them.”
A former Dutch Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, has claimed that a secret agreement between the U.S., Britain and France not to use air power against the Serbs amid concerns over hundreds of captured UN peacekeepers made it easier for Bosnian Serbs to overrun Srebrenica.
EU Commissioner Hahn hopes the commemoration will boost reconciliation and help the countries of what was Yugoslavia to one day join the EU.
Earlier Pope Francis visited Bosnia-Herzegovina to urge the country’s Orthodox Serbs, Muslims and Catholic Croats to overcome the wounds of war that killed more than 100,000 people, and encourage peace and reconciliation across the country.
But tensions remain, after Serbia and Russia objected to a United Nations resolution describing the Serebrenica massacre as “genocide”. And in Belgrade authorities banned activists from organizing an event that would involve 7,000 Serbs lying down in front of Parliament to commemorate the victims.
Yet, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will be representing Serbia at the commemoration. He said he wanted to bow his head before the victims of the “horrible crime”. Other officials include former U.S. President Bill Clinton who was expected to lead the American delegation.
(BosNewsLife’s NEW EUROPE is a regular look at key news developments in the former Communist nations impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).