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600 massacre victims buried

©Associated Press

April 1, 2003

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Thousands of weeping widows and fatherless children gathered Monday to lay to rest the first identified victims of Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II.

About 15,000 mourners mingled among 600 caskets containing the remains of Muslim men and boys slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs in July 1995. Up to 8,000 Muslims were executed in the eastern Bosnian enclave.

They were buried in a newly established graveyard in Potocari, a village next to Srebrenica where the town's men were last seen by their families.

"That day, the Earth and the sky were burning," said Mirsada Stocevic, 27, describing how Serb soldiers separated her and her 15-month-old son, Mujo, from her husband, Mustafa.

"He said, 'Don't worry about me. Take care of the child.' Then they took him away and I never saw him again," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The victims had sought protection in the U.N. compound in Potocari, but the vastly outnumbered and lightly armed Dutch U.N. peacekeepers in charge of the area were no match for the Serb forces intent on purging the town of its Muslims.

More than 5,000 bodies since have been exhumed from mass graves. The 600 sets of remains reburied Monday were identified using DNA analysis.

Many of the perpetrators remain at large.

The funeral ceremony, which included a collective prayer, was led by the head of Bosnia's Islamic community, Reis Mustafa Ceric. He called for justice, but urged families to refrain from revenge.

TWO CROATS CONVICTED: The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, convicted two former Bosnian Croat commanders Monday of torturing and killing Muslims during the 1992-1995 war.

Mladen Naletilic and Vinko Martinovic were found guilty of several counts of murder, persecution, torture and forced labor in atrocities in and around the Bosnian city of Mostar.

Naletilic, 56, was sentenced to 20 years in prison; Martinovic, 39, was sentenced to 18 years. They can appeal within 30 days.

EU TAKES OVER MACEDONIA MISSION: The European Union took over peacekeeping duties in ethnically divided Macedonia on Monday, a first military mission that will test the EU's ability to handle trouble spots without help from NATO or the United States.

At a military base just outside the capital of Skopje, the 400-member mission replaced the NATO-led force that kept the peace in the Balkan nation since a rebel insurgency ended in 2001.

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