More than 20,000 grieving Bosnian Muslims gathered Saturday in Srebrenica for the burial of 534 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, one of the bloodiest events in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.
Bosnian Muslims commemorated the 14th anniversary of the wartime massacre in the Bosnian town with tears as many mourners carried the caskets of mourners from hand to hand to their graves following an Islamic funeral prayer at a memorial cemetery just outside the eastern town.
Every year thousands of Bosnians gather on the July 11 anniversary of the attack for burials, family reunions, and to remember their relatives and friends lying beneath the thousands of white tombstones in the special memorial cemetery.
The victims' names were read out as coffins, wrapped in a green cloth, passed through the crowd and were finally buried 14 years after Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic seized Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, and slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995.
The 534 newly identified victims were among some 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were killed by Serb forces after they captured the U.N.-protected enclave on July 11, 1995, and committed Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
The remains of the victims, aged between 14 and 72, were in most cases found in secondary mass graves where they had been moved from initial burial sites in a bid by Serbs to cover up war crimes.
"Although we were desperately searching for his remains for years it was so hard to receive a telephone call telling us that my father had been identified," said Nurveta Guster, a 27-year-old technician.
"I saw him for the last time at our house in Srebrenica. He left with other men through the woods trying to escape."
"It is just like it is happening now, I'm going through it again," said Guster, whose uncle and a 18-year-old nephew were also buried.
Hatidza Mehmedovic, who is in her 60s, is still searching for her son's remains. "Victims' families are still suffering as mass graves are still hidden," she said.
The Croat and Muslim members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic and Haris Silajdzic, attended the ceremony along with the international community's top representative Valentin Inzko. No senior Serb official was present.
"We must again acknowledge that the world failed to act, failed to prevent slaughter of innocence of Srebrenica," the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia Charles English told the mourners.
Local and foreign dignitaries joined the bereaved to pay their respects to the dead on Saturday. Only Bosnian Serb leaders were absent, reflecting their denial that the massacre was an act of genocide.
Darkest days of Europe
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a statement, called it the "darkest day in European history since the Second World War," while U.S. ambassador Charles English said, "[t]he massacre was a stain on our collective consciousness," repeating words used by President Barack Obama in Cairo last month.
Bosnia's inter-ethnic war cost 100,000 lives and left the country split into two highly autonomous entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serbs' Republika Srpska.
After releasing the women and children, the Bosnian Serbs took away some 8,000 men and older boys and killed them over the following week. Those who tried to escape through the woods were hunted down and killed.
So far some 3,200 Srebrenica victims have been buried at the memorial cemetery. Forensic experts from the International Commission on Missing Persons said they have identified 6,186 of those killed in the atrocity.
Bosnian Serbs sought to cover up the massacre by reburying the remains of victims using bulldozers, which caused body parts to become separated.
So far, about 70 mass grave have been found and exhumed, and DNA analysis is the only tool for identification.
Not officially acknowledged
The European Parliament in January proclaimed the date a day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide, calling on countries across the continent to support the move.
But the atrocity was not officially commemorated in ethnically-divided Bosnia amid growing tensions with Serbs.
While they admitted in 2004 that their forces killed 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims, Bosnian Serb authorities condemned the resolution, reflecting the revival of nationalist rhetoric that triggered the 1992-1995 war.
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, suspected of being the main culprit for the massacre, was detained last year and is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. His army chief and co-accused Ratko Mladic is still on the run.
Serbia's Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said a criminal case "is one of the main conditions for reconciliation and the establishment of a durable peace in the region."
"Our debt to the victims is to judge those who committed these crimes," Cvetkovic said in a statement for the anniversary.