During the commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, the Serbian PM, whose country is held responsible for the bloody event, had stones hurled at him. Both the Bosnian government and the families of victims condemned the attack, hurting peace efforts
An angry crowd hurling stones and plastic bottles forced Serbia's premier to flee a ceremony on Saturday marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had just laid a flower at a monument for the Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed in Europe's worst atrocity since World War II when the crowd started chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God Is Great) and throwing stones. Vucic ran for cover, shielded with umbrellas by his bodyguards, who were hit by the hail of stones as some in the crowd shouted insults at the Serbian leader. Vucic, whose country backed Bosnian Serbs during and after the 1990s inter-ethnic war in Bosnia, was among numerous dignitaries, including former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and tens of thousands of people attending the commemoration in the eastern Bosnian town.
The words of an imam finally calmed the irate people in the crowd of mourners as their attention turned to the burial of newly identified massacre victims. Bosnia's presidency strongly condemned the stone-throwing incident, saying Vucic had come to the town in the "spirit of reconciliation and intending to pay respect to the victims." It apologized to "all foreign delegations" over the incident. Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic added that the attack was "the work of sick minds who abused this solemn event."
"It is an attack not only against Vucic but against all of Serbia and its policy of peace and regional cooperation," Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement.
Vucic returned to Belgrade where he told reporters that he was not hurt by a stone that hit him in the mouth and only his glasses were broken in the attack.
"I regret that some did not recognize our sincere intention to build a sincere friendship between Serbs and Bosnians (Muslims)," he said. "My hand remains outstretched (to Bosnian Muslims) and I will continue with my policy of reconciliation" between the two Balkan nations. The Serbian premier added that he would continue to extend his hand to the Bosnian people, the majority of whom, he claimed, condemned the attack on him. "I am the one who extends his hand to you, and wants to have peace with you. This is our policy," he said. Vucic also urged the Serbian people "to not raise their hands to anyone thinking they can do anything they want," as "we have to live together with the Bosnians in the future, too." Earlier, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had welcomed Vucic's presence at the event, describing it as a "forward-looking approach that is required for the countries of the region to move ahead on their path to the European Union, where their future firmly lies." Juncker added that Europe was determined to convict those responsible for the massacre.
Vucic had earlier condemned the "monstrous crime" in Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslim males were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces who had captured Srebrenica in July 1995, near the end of the Bosnian war. Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have denied the extent of the killing, although two international tribunals have labelled the bloodshed, on a scale not seen since the German Nazi regime and its concentration camps during World War II, as genocide. In 1995 Srebrenica was supposedly a U.N.-protected "safe haven" but Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic, who is on trial for war crimes in The Hague, brushed aside the lightly armed Dutch U.N. peacekeepers. The slaughter was followed a few months later by the Dayton peace deal, brokered by the Clinton administration, which ended the 1992-95 conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives.
On Saturday, the remains of 136 newly identified victims were laid to rest alongside more than 6,000 others already buried at a memorial center just outside Srebrenica. In most cases only body parts of the Srebrenica victims have been found, as their bones were moved from mass graves to so-called "secondary" graves in a bid to hide the scale of the atrocity. Begajeta Salihovic came to bury her father, whose remains were found in two such sites. "His skeleton is still not complete but we decided to bury him since we want to give him a trace," said Salihovic, 51, whose brother was also killed in the massacre. Her two other brothers were killed at the start of the war, but their remains were never found. Kadira Salkic lost her three sons and husband in the ill-fated town. "Only God knows how I manage to continue to live... I still cry," the 75-year-old whispered. "But there is nothing I can do. Even if I would die it would not make them come back." Although the atrocity occurred 20 years ago, debate continues to rage over its description as genocide.
So far, the remains of more than 6,000 Srebrenica victims have been found, painstakingly identified and reburied. Although the massacre occurred two decades ago, Bosnian Serb and Serbian leaders have persistently refused to describe it as genocide as defined by international courts. On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a draft resolution recognizing the massacre as genocide at the U.N. Amnesty International slammed Russia over its Srebrenica veto, saying that the move is an "insult to the memory of the dead." The human rights group described Russia's act as "affront" to the families of the victims. "Russia's veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Srebrenica genocide is an affront to the families of the victims of the massacre and will hinder attempts at reconciliation between the communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia. "This resolution was about much more than just recognizing Srebrenica as a genocide. It was also about acknowledging the urgent need to provide justice to the victims and long-term support to survivors, including of sexual violence, and clarifying the fate and whereabouts of the over 8,000 still missing from the war," Dalhuisen said.