Attack on Serbia PM mars Srebrenica massacre anniversary

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 12, 2015, 03:45 AM IST

An angry crowd hurling stones and plastic bottles forced Serbia`s premier to flee a ceremony Saturday marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia, Europe`s worst atrocity since World War II.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had just laid a flower at a monument for the Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed and buried there 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 US president Bill Clinton, and tens of thousands of people attending the commemoration in the eastern Bosnian town.

The prayers 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 apologised 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."

Serbia for its part described the incident as an "assassination attempt".

"It is an attack not only against Vucic but against all of Serbia and its policy of peace and regional cooperation," Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who praised Vucic`s "historical decision" to attend Saturday`s ceremony, said the attack "went against the spirit of this day of remembrance."

Vucic later returned to Belgrade where he told reporters that although a stone hit him in the mouth he was not hurt, but his glasses were broken in the attack.

"I regret that some did not recognise our sincere intention to build a sincere friendship between Serbs and Bosniaks (Muslims)," he said, adding: "My hand remains outstretched (to Bosnian Muslims) and I will continue with my policy of reconciliation" between the two Balkan nations.

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 Bosnia`s war.

Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have long denied the extent of the killing in Srebrenica, although two international tribunals have described the bloodshed as genocide -- a massive killing not seen since the German Nazi regime and its concentration camps during World War II.

In 1995 Srebrenica was supposedly a UN-protected "safe haven" but the Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic, on trial for war crimes in The Hague, brushed aside the lightly armed Dutch UN 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.

US President Barack Obama spoke of the need for "healing the wounds of the past" in a statement on the Srebrenica anniversary, saying that "only by fully acknowledging the past can we achieve a future of true and lasting reconciliation."On Saturday, the remains of 136 newly identified victims were laid to rest alongside more than 6,000 others already buried at a memorial centre just outside the town of 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.