Fadila Efendic knelt beside her husband’s grave to mourn him and her son, whose body hasn’t been found. She cried aloud as she prayed: “Why did he have to die so brutally? Where is my dear son’s body so I can at least bury him?”
Efendic – and thousands of other Bosnian Muslim women who lost husbands, sons and brothers – on Monday will attend commemorations marking the 10th anniversary of the Bosnian Serb Srebrenica genocide.
Nearly 8000 Muslim men and boys were separated from the women and slaughtered in Europe‘s worst massacre of civilians since the second world war.
“My husband Hamed was buried without his head, meaning he was decapitated by the killers,” Efendic said, her voice trembling. “And I never found the body of my 15-year-old son, who fled to the woods with him.”
Efendic, 54, recalls the harrowing events that started on 11 July 1995, when the Bosnian Serb troops, under personal command of top war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic, entered the UN protected enclave in eastern Bosnia, separated women from men and boys, and went on a killing spree.
Nearly 8000 Muslim men and
“It was complete chaos and panic among us,” Efendic said. “Most of the women fled from Srebrenica to this Dutch base” in the abandoned car battery factory in Potocari, a hamlet 10km north of Srebrenica.
“Most of the men went to the woods and mountains,” Efendic said. “I told my son Fejzo, who although only 15 was big and strong like a real man, to come with me to Potocari.
“But he said: “Mother, the Serbs will kill me there. I look like I’m mature enough to be a soldier,” Efendic said.
She said Dutch troops, who were supposed to protect the UN-declared ‘safe zone’, did nothing to protect them in Potocari.
“In fact, they [Dutch soldiers] handed our men and boys to the Serbs,” Efendic said, pointing to the battered and abandoned factory across from the Potocari Memorial Centre where 1330 Srebrenica victims, including Efendic’s husband, were buried in 2002.
Debate continues over what the 370 Dutch peacekeepers should have done.
Some investigators have concluded that they had too few men, too little firepower and an insufficient mandate, leaving them unable to stop the Serbs.
“You should not pray to Allah, Ratko Mladic is the only one who can protect you right now”
Efendic said one image would stay forever in her mind: Mladic approaching the Potocari factory fence where 10,000 horrified Muslims thought they found their shelter.
“He patted one child on the head, handed out candy and said nothing will happen to us,” Efendic said.
She quoted him as saying: “You should not pray to Allah, Ratko Mladic is the only one who can protect you right now.”
“Instead, the Serbs separated us from our men and boys, executed or slaughtered them in cold blood and dumped them in mass graves,” she said, sobbing. “We women and girls were put on buses and trucks and deported out of the Srebrenica enclave” to the Muslim-controlled regions of Bosnia.
At the same time, the Serbs were “hunting” the Muslim men and boys who fled to the thickly wooded mountains surrounding Srebrenica, Efendic said.
Insults and executions
“They were killing them like they were rabbits or some wild animals. As our convoy passed, they hurled stones and insults at us, calling us Muslim sluts.”
“I heard shots as me and my 14-year-old daughter were transported in an open truck trailer,” Efendic said.
In June, a video showed Serb
“On the grass fields, as we passed, we saw groups of our men and boys kneeling down, with their hands tied behind their backs and the Serbs pointing their guns at them,” she said.
“We did not see actual executions, but the bodies of our neighbours were later discovered in mass graves.”
In June, footage showing Serb paramilitaries executing Srebrenica Muslims was broadcast on local television, making clear that troops from Serbia, and not only Bosnian Serbs, took part in the killings.
It also forced Serbs to acknowledge their soldiers committed war crimes.
“It took 10 years for some Serbs to wake up and get to see what is only a small fraction of the huge bloodbath that had happened here,” Efendic said.
“We do not want their remorse or apology now. It is too late. Just as it is too late for my Hamed and Fejzo.”