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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Srebrenica tries to lure back Muslims
Bosnian women cry as they attend the memorial service for Srebrenica victims
The townspeople want to put the past behind them
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By the BBC's Angus Roxburgh
in Srebrenica

Srebrenica today is a sad half-empty town, haunted by the ghosts of 7,000 Muslims who died in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

People still live here, but not the Muslims who once inhabited it. Now it is almost 100% Serb - ethnic cleansing made permanent.

So far only 63 Muslim refugees have returned to live among 2,000 Serbs in Srebrenica

So in the town itself, there has been little reaction to the Dutch report into how the events of July 1995 happened.

The Serbs, understandably, do not want to hear about those days - and neither do the few Muslims who have returned.

Ordinary people here are trying to rebuild their lives, not dig over the past.

Dutch report

A group of Dutch women, though, are active here - trying to atone for what they see as their country's sins in failing to prevent the deportation and massacre of the town's Muslims.

Rita Verbelen, of the Netherlands-Srebrenica group, says the recent publication of a Dutch report into the Srebrenica massacre is a positive move.

Scene of the massacre
Thousands of Muslims were killed in Srebrenica during the war
"Perhaps the report is a step towards justice," she said.

Today they were working with some of the town's children, painting kites - "a small beginning to make amends". The project is designed to build bridges between the communities.

So far only 63 Muslim refugees have returned to live among 2,000 Serbs in Srebrenica. But their mayor is Muslim, and so is the deputy head of the district.

The mayor, Sefket Hafizovic, said he was hopeful the tide was turning and that more Muslims would start to return.

But it required more help from the international community, who had to demonstrate to the refugees - now scattered across the Muslim part of Bosnia - that it was safe enough to return.

War criminals had to be brought to justice, he said, and money poured in to make people's old homes, or new ones, habitable. Otherwise they would not come.

Muslim involvement

The UN has introduced six Muslim policemen into Srebrenica's 86-strong force. They wanted to find 24 volunteers, but could not.

The six are young men, straight out of police academy. They are not allowed to carry guns and though they patrol with their Serb colleagues, cheerfully chatting to each other, their nervousness is clear.

Copies of the report
A Dutch report on the massacre was published recently
One was afraid to talk openly in case he was overheard. When the Serb policemen approached a stallholder in the street and shook his hand, my cameraman asked his Muslim colleague to do the same, but he could not bring himself to do so. The healing will still take time.

Among the returnees are Omer and Jamila Spahic, who have rebuilt their old house and reopened a cafe, which is doing a roaring trade in soups, kebabs and meat and cheese pies.

Omer, who left Srebrenica before the Serbs overwhelmed it, says it is quite natural to want to return.

"Wouldn't you want to go back to your own home?" he says by way of explanation.

He gets on well with his Serb customers - but interestingly, buys all his meat in the Muslim capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. He says he wouldn't trust local Serb butchers.

Slow process

Nearby, a start has been made to rebuilding the ancient mosque which was totally destroyed by the Serbs soon after they entered the town. It is being financed by the Malaysian government.

The builders all stay together in one house for safety, and all have terrible stories of how they fled from the Serb advance in 1995 through the forests.

Since they came back to work here, though, they say have had no trouble from Serbs.

They are in a hurry to complete their job by 13 July - the anniversary of the mosque's destruction. It will be a significant moment.

Somehow, amid the grim bullet-marked houses of Srebrenica, there is just a little hope for the future. Ethnic violence has subsided. The place is at peace.

With a mosque, Muslim policemen and officials, more refugees may feel ready to come back. Each day, a few come at least to have a look around.

One day, with luck and some courage, there may be a real ethnic mix here once again.

The BBC's Allan Little
"Holland is haunted by the affair"
Professor Petr Romain the report's co - editor
"We cannot alter the facts and that is the problem"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | Europe
Srebrenica blame 'must be shared'
10 Apr 02 | Europe
Srebrenica report: Excerpts
06 Apr 02 | Europe
Bosnia marks war anniversary
02 Aug 01 | Europe
Q&A: Srebrenica massacre
01 Apr 02 | Europe
Bosnia genocide suspect arrested
02 Aug 01 | Europe
Srebrenica judgement: Excerpts
10 Apr 02 | Europe
Identifying Srebrenica's victims
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