Bosnia commemorates Saturday the 20th anniversary of the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica, as debate continues to rage over its description as genocide.
The remains of 136 newly-identified victims will be laid to rest along with more than 6,000 others already buried at a memorial centre just outside the eastern Bosnian town.
Thousands of Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces after they captured Srebrenica in July 1995 near the end of Bosnia\’s inter-ethnic war, in the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
Some 50,000 people, as well as dignitaries from across Bosnia and abroad, were expected to be present at the ceremony marking two decades since the massacre and a day of mourning will be observed throughout the Balkan country.
International officials due to attend include European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Bill Clinton — the US president at the time, whose administration brokered the Dayton peace deal that ended Bosnia\’s 1992-1995 war only a few months after the Srebrenica slaughter.
Clinton also attended the massacre\’s 10th anniversary.
Serbia, which backed Bosnian Serbs during and after the war that claimed some 100,000 lives, will be represented by its Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist-turned-pro-European.
Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians have long denied the scale of the killing in Srebrenica, although two international tribunals have described the bloodshed as genocide.
A group of Bosnian men prepare to lay flowers at the Potocari Memorial Center near Srebrenica, on July 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Elvis Barukcic)
In 2005, then-Serbian President Boris Tadic attended ceremonies marking the massacre\’s 10th anniversary, becoming the first leader from his country to visit the site.
Then in 2010, the Serbian parliament condemned the massacre, and three years later Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic made a personal apology.
But all of Serbia\’s leaders, including Vucic, have persistently refused to acknowledge the massacre as genocide.
Although the slaughter has been deemed as such by two international courts, the qualification remains a matter of even broader dispute.
A woman reacts as she stands near a relative\’s grave, at the Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 10, 2015. REUTERS
Earlier this week Western powers clashed with Russia on the topic when Moscow — after lobbying by Serbia and Bosnian Serbs — vetoed a draft UN resolution submitted by Britain which called for the Security Council to recognise the Srebrenica mass killing as genocide.
Along with Serbian President Nikolic, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik welcomed the Russian veto, thanking Moscow for "preventing the adoption of a resolution that would have complicated the situation and deepened divisions within Bosnia".
Two decades on Bosnia is still frozen in the ethnic divisions that fuelled its civil war, and lags behind its Balkan neighbours in its bid to join the European Union.
After much arm-twisting by the international community, Bosnia emerged from the bloody conflict as a three-cornered federal state, but its leaders have failed to find a way of reconciling its communities.
Since the war the country consists of two semi-autonomous entities — the Muslim-Croat Federation and the ethnic Serbs\’ Republika Srpska. Srebrenica has remained in the Serb-run half.
A Bosnian woman mourns next to the coffin of a relative among 136 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre at the Potocari Memorial Center near the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, on July 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff)