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Prospects for Srebrenica Still Dim After Ten Years

(Washington, DC--July 20, 2005) In the ten years since the Srebrenica massacre of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Serb paramilitary forces in 1995, little has been done to improve the economy of war-ravaged Bosnia and hence provide the incentive for progress in a post-war reconciliation of its population, according to two survivors of the attack.

Beba Hadzic, director of Bosfam, a locally-based relief agency that aims to reduce poverty in the country by putting women to work weaving and making other handicrafts, and Elvir Mujic, a consular officer with the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington, DC, told a recent RFE/RL audience that they are disappointed by the lack of sustained development efforts, particularly in Srebrenica, by the United Nations and other international organizations.

Mujic, who was an 8th grade student in 1992 when the war began in Bosnia, noted the demographic changes in his hometown that resulted from the brutal ethnic cleansing. The town's population has dwindled to less than 4,000, with many elderly inhabitants, few jobs, one remaining school and no medical services. The major industries in Srebrenica -- a bauxite mine and several factories -- remain idle, having lost their skilled workforce. Hadzic, a former teacher, said the primary school in Srebrenica where she taught now has only 7 children, while before the war there were 187. There are "over 120 teachers and professors [from Srebrenica] who remain missing and more than 800 confirmed dead," she said.

Hadzic said, her "knitting project," first conceived as a way for Bosnian women war refugees to stay productive proved to be a way to re-establish trust among former neighbors. The project began in a workshop in Tuzla, where Hadzic had ended up after being deported with hundreds of Srebrenica women and small children, while their husbands and sons were killed. The knitting of socks and sweaters to be given to fellow refugees provides "occupation therapy," Hadzic said, as the women share their grief and develop friendships. The project has expanded to the weaving of traditional Bosnian rugs that are available for commercial sale. Hadzic has brought the "knitting project" home to Srebrenica as well. She said the women who join are helping to reunify the town, where neighbors collaborated with the invading Serbian army units which organized the deportations and killings.

According to both Hadzic and Mujic, the residents of Srebrenica were caught unprepared by the war, which shattered generations of ethnic co-existence in the town and its surrounding hillside villages. Serbian television reinvigorated debate about the massacre on June 2, by broadcasting previously unseen video of six Muslim teenagers, with their hands bound, being directed away from a truck and shot in the back. This film footage has led to the arrest of several of the former elite Serbian soldiers identified on the video. Mujic said that, until now, the sentences given to Serbs at the Hague Tribunal have been insufficient. "Two, three, five years in prison: that's just a present to them, not justice," he said.

Mujic, who avoided the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica by hiding, was captured and imprisoned by Serbian forces a few weeks later. He holds the UN equally responsible for the massacre at Srebrenica and other failed "safe havens," as well as its failure to end the war sooner. Both Hadzic and Mujic consider the so-called Bosnian civil war a war of aggression, which the European and international community failed to stop. "Not much has been learned" from the war, Mujic concluded.