Thousands mark 1995 Srebrenica genocide which is denied by Serbs, fueling ethnic tensions in Bosnia

Thousands of people from Bosnia and abroad have gathered in Srebrenica for the annual ritual of commemorating the 1995 genocide
A Bosnian muslim woman lays flowers at the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman lays flowers at the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Thousands of people from Bosnia and abroad gathered in Srebrenica on Thursday for the annual ritual of commemorating the 1995 genocide which Serb officials continue to deny, fueling ethnic tensions and deep divisions within the war-ravaged state.

Twenty-nine years after they were murdered in Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust, the bodies of 13 men and one teenage boy were laid to rest Thursday at a vast and ever-expanding memorial cemetery just outside Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia. They join more than 6,600 massacre victims already reburied there.

Ajla Efendic buried two of her uncles on Thursday.

“Two older men who were not carrying weapons, two men who were defenseless," she said. "My grandfather, a pensioner, who did not pose any danger to anyone was also killed. His body was found in a mass grave.”

More than 8,000 Bosniak Muslims were estimated to have been killed in the shooting spree by the Bosnian Serb army and police over several days in July 1995.

Relatives of the victims can bury only partial remains of their loved ones as they are typically found scattered over several different mass graves, sometimes miles (kilometers) apart.

The Srebrenica killings were the bloody crescendo of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations — Croats and Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim.

The commemoration Thursday came only weeks after the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate July 11 annually as an international day of reflection and commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Serbia and Bosnian Serbs strongly opposed its adoption, wrongly claiming it portrays all Serbs as "genocidal people."

Serb leaders insist the massacre is not genocide, but a “terrible crime." They have also downplayed the number of those killed.

“The genocide in Srebrenica did not happen, and if it did, there would be no need to constantly impose this topic,” Bosnian Serb separatist President Milorad Dodik has repeatedly said.

President of the Board of Directors of the Srebrenica Memorial Center, Hamdija Fejzic, said that the genocide denial must stop.

“For a full 29 years, the policy of covering up and denying the genocide was carried out by those forces who designed and planned the genocide, and who for years provided shelter to those suspected and accused of the most serious war crimes,” he told the gathering on Thursday.

In an op-ed piece in Bosnian media, European Union High Representative Josep Borrell said “Srebrenica remains a deep scar in the history of Europe.”

“The failure to prevent this genocide is a burden we continue to bear,” he wrote. “Both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have indisputably determined that this crime is genocide.”

“We promised that we would never forget -- neither the victims, nor the lasting pain of their families and loved ones," he added. “Their memory drives us to work every day to ensure that history does not repeat itself, in a world where peace seems increasingly fragile.”

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a U.N.-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the ill-fated town.

The perpetrators then dumped their victims’ bodies into hastily made mass graves, which they later dug up with bulldozers, scattering the remains among other burial sites to hide the evidence of their war crimes.

The Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian Serb wartime officials to more than 700 years in prison for the Srebrenica killings.

However, most Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials still celebrate Karadzic and Mladic as national heroes. They continue to downplay or even deny the Srebrenica killings and offend the massacre victims and survivors.

——

Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this story from Belgrade, Serbia.

Bosnian muslim women wait for the mass burial ceremony, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman mourns next to the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman prays next to the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman prays next to the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim women mourn next to the grave of their relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian Muslim woman prays next to the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica massacre, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Rukija Besic mourns next to the graves of her husband and son, victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gathered in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian Muslim woman mourns next to the grave of her relative, victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gathered in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Flowers are placed on the monument with names of those killed in Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gathered in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Bosnian muslim man pray during the mass burial ceremony for the 14 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Bosnian muslim man pray during the mass burial ceremony for the 14 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman mourns next to the coffin of her relative, newly identified victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim girl mourns next to the coffin of her relative, newly identified victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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A Bosnian muslim woman mourns next to the coffin of her relative, newly identified victim of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Bosnian muslim man carry the coffin with the remains of one of the 14 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Bosnian muslim man pray during the mass burial ceremony for the 14 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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Bosnian muslim man pray during the mass burial ceremony for the 14 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, July 11, 2024. Thousands gather in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the 29th anniversary on Monday of Europe's only acknowledged genocide since World War II. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

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