SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Veterans from opposite sides of the brutal Balkan wars of the 1990s paid their respects Saturday to the victims of the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
The small group of former fighters from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia laid flowers at the memorial dedicated to over 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys who were executed in 1995 by Serb forces in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
The visit was organized by the Centre for Nonviolent Action, a non-governmental organization that promotes nonviolence and dialogue and encourages former foes to deal constructively with their past.
For most, this was the first time they had faced the magnitude of the crimes committed by their own forces. Participants said the visit left them "shocked" and "speechless."
Novica Kostic, a former soldier from Serbia said the group had visited other marked and unmarked places where people suffered during the wars "but this is heavy."
"This is horror. Genocide is a soft word for this. This is hell for my soul," the shaken veteran said.
After having watched a documentary about the massacre, the group walked along a wall with the names of the victims engraved. Many were overwhelmed by the thousands of graves that fill the valley near Srebrenica.
After the fall of the town in July 1995, residents fled to the nearby U.N. base seeking protection from Dutch forces. But when Serb forces led by genocide suspect Ratko Mladic – now on trial before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague – arrived at the base, the Dutch did not stop the Serb soldiers from separating men and boys out for execution.
The bodies of the victims are still being found in mass graves hidden in the area. The bones are identified through DNA analysis and returned to their families who bury them at this memorial center.
Ljuban Volas, a former Bosnian Serb soldier, said as a human being and as a soldier of the army that committed this crime, he simply "cannot approve it. Whoever did this must be held responsible."
The 1992-95 Bosnian war was the most brutal of the wars that erupted after Yugoslavia fell apart. The fighting between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats devastated Bosnia and killed over 100,000 people.