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posted: 7/11/2012 9:15 AM

Bosnians bury 520 Srebrenica genocide victims

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  • A Bosnian Muslim woman weeps near the grave of her relative among the graves of Srebrenica victims at the Memorial Cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, 160 kms northeast of Sarajevo, Bosnia, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Thousands gathered in the cemetery for the mass burial of 520 bodies, marking the 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.

      A Bosnian Muslim woman weeps near the grave of her relative among the graves of Srebrenica victims at the Memorial Cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, 160 kms northeast of Sarajevo, Bosnia, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Thousands gathered in the cemetery for the mass burial of 520 bodies, marking the 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- They came again, on the 17th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II, to bury their dead in the town whose name is now synonymous with genocide.

Some 30,000 Muslims traveled to a memorial center in Srebrenica, Bosnia, on Wednesday to bury 520 newly identified victims -- the remains of thousands of Muslim men and boys slaughtered in July 1995 by Serb forces.

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The annual ritual was as heartbreaking as ever.

Izabela Hasanovic, 27, spent the last minutes crying over one of the coffins before it was lowered into the ground.

"My father, my father is here," she sobbed. "I cannot believe that my father is in this coffin. I cannot accept it!"

Another woman dropped on her knees next to a coffin, pressing her lips against the green cloth covering the wood.

"It's your sister kissing you. It's me," she whispered to the coffin, caressing it with both hands until others lowered it.

Then the valley echoed with the sound of dirt pounding on over 500 coffins from thousands of shovels as a voice read out the names of the victims and their ages from loudspeakers.

Among them were 48 teenagers as well as 94-year-old Saha Izmirlic, who was buried next to her son who also died in the massacre. On the other side of her grave, an empty space is waiting for her grandson who has not yet been found.

Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the enclave in July 1995, separated men from women and executed 8,372 men and boys within just a few days. Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica as U.N. peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned and failed to stop the slaughter.

The bodies of the victims are still being found in mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia. The task has been made even more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators dug up mass graves and reburied remains in other mass graves to try to cover their tracks. The victims have been identified through DNA analysis and newly identified ones are buried at the Srebrenica memorial center every year.

So far 5,325 Srebrenica massacre victims found this way have been laid to rest.

Mladic was arrested last year in Serbia and is on trial now at the tribunal in The Hague. He faces 11 charges, including genocide, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war that left 100,000 dead, especially the Srebrenica massacre. He denies wrongdoing.

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