Bosnia will bury 409 victims of the Srebrenica massacre, including a newborn baby, on Thursday, the 18th anniversary of Europe's worst post-war atrocity in which Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered about 8 000 Muslims.
Thousands of people flocked to this ill-fated town to attend the funeral of the victims whose remains were found in mass graves in the eastern Bosnian Srebrenica region and only identified almost two decades after the 1995 killing.
On the same day, the UN Yugoslav war crimes court was to rule on an appeal of the decision to drop a charge of genocide against Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, who faces other counts including masterminding the Srebrenica massacre.
“This year we are going to bury the youngest victim of the genocide, the Muhic family's baby” whose remains were exhumed from a mass grave in 2012, said Kenan Karavdic, a government official in charge of the burial ceremony.
The baby, who died shortly after her birth in July 1995 at the UN base in Potocari, near Srebrenica, “will be buried next to the grave of her father Hajrudin, killed in a massacre,” Karavdic told AFP.
Among 409 victims to be laid to rest, 44 were aged between 14 and 18, officials said.
Some 6,000 people have already arrived at the memorial centre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, after marching for 80 kilometres (48 miles) along the path the Muslim men and boys had taken in 1995 to escape the slaughter.
Ahead of the funeral services, columns of simple wooden coffins, covered with green cloth, were aligned in a vast hall as relatives searched for their loved ones.
At the cemetery were freshly dug graves with green wooden signs where the coffins were to be laid, lined with rows of white marble columns.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected Muslim enclave until July 11, 1995, when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces.
The troops brushed aside lightly armed Dutch UN peacekeepers in the “safe area” where thousands of Muslims from surrounding villages had gathered for protection.
They loaded thousands of men and boys on to trucks, executed them and then threw their bodies into mass graves.
The remains of 5 657 victims, identified through DNA tests, have already been buried in the memorial centre in Potocari since the process started a decade ago.
Their remains - often only a handful of bones - were found in dozens of mass graves scattered in the area, said Amor Masovic, head of the Bosnia's Institute for Missing Persons.
But many victims remain unidentified and more are yet to be found.
Munira Subasic will lay to rest her son Nermin - who was 17 at the time of the massacre - while the remains of her husband, also killed in Srebrenica, are yet to be found.
“Eighteen years later, I have found only two bones belonging to my son,” she said solemnly.
“But I decided to bury him as I do not have another life to wait for the remains of my son to be found,” Subasic told AFP.
Zumra Krdzic lost her husband, son and “many cousins.”
“A book would not be enough to list the names of everyone I have lost,” Krdzic said.
The Srebrenica massacre has been judged an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice.
After escaping justice for years, both Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic are now being tried by the ICTY for warcrimes and genocide.
Mladic was arrested in Serbia in 2011, while Karadzic was held in 2008.
So far, 38 former Bosnian Serb military or police officials have been convicted, including some for genocide, for their role in the Srebrenica killings, both by the ICTY and Bosnia's own war crimes court. - AFP