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Remembering 8,372 men and boys killed in Bosnian massacre.

Byline: Katie Sands Reporter katie.sands@walesonline.co.uk

SURVIVORS of the brutal Srebrenica genocide joined a special service in Cardiff last night to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

In July 1995 forces led by Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic killed 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in and around the town.

Srebrenica, which had been declared an internationally-protected "safe area" by the United Nations Security Council, was overrun by paramilitary troops on July 11, 1995.

In the days that followed men and boys from the town were slaughtered at execution sites ranging from warehouses to farms before their bodies were dumped in mass graves.

The remains of many of the victims of the killing - the worst single act of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust - have never been found.

Those who died were remembered last night at a service at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff ahead of Srebrenica Memorial Day on Saturday.

Deputy presiding officer David Melding AM said: "I'm very pleased that I, along with the First Minister, have - on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government - had the opportunity to host this very important memorial event. It's very important that we do our bit to remember the events of 20 years ago and by doing that we try to build a more tolerant world.

"It has to be constantly in the fronts of our minds when we are trying to create more peaceful and tolerant communities and multi-faith approaches to life.

"We should remember many of our own Muslim communities feel the need to remember what happened to fellow Muslims in Bosnia."

Saleem Kidwai, chairman of the Welsh board of Remember Srebrenica and secretary general of the Muslim Council of Wales, took a separate delegation of 24 people from Wales out to Bosnia in October.

After commemorating the Bosnian genocide in Wales for the first time last year, he said: "It was very well received. We wanted to do it in a bigger way."

He added: "We should be very careful and learn from the pages of history and make sure we don't create those situations where this could happen again."

Nedzad Avdic, 37, was at last night's event. He was just a schoolboy when the genocide happened in 1993.

Nedzad was born in the north of Bosnia, in a village called Zvornik, but his family home was burnt and destroyed by Serb soldiers. His parents took him and his three younger sisters to escape capture and death by hiding in the woods before the family sought shelter in Srebrenica in 1995.

Nedzad was shot in his stomach and right arm during the massacre while his father, uncle and relatives who sought shelter at the Dutch base of Potocari did not survive.

He moved back to Srebrenica in 2007.

Nedzad described how the UN troops arrived and were seen as rescuers, playing football with locals every day, in the period after he and his family had been rendered homeless.

"But in July 1995 that all changed. The Dutch forgot us, left their checkpoints, and fled. We had no option but to follow them and wait for help but it came from nowhere."

After days of hiding the then 17-year-old boy and his father and uncle headed, along with "an endless column of men and boys", in the direction of Tuzla after taking cover in the woods and hills around Srebrenica.

But they became lost in the middle of a forest and were forced to surrender to the Serb forces.

"Some 2,000 men and boys were taken to their death. After driving in the covered lorries in different directions we were taken to a field where we would be shot.

"We were tortured and dying for a drop of water. Before execution we were forced to take off our clothes. One of the soldiers tied my hands behind my back.

"At that moment, as a 17-year-old boy, I realised that was the end. I was trying to hide on the lorry behind the men wishing to live a few more seconds. The others did the same.

"Finally I had to jump out. We were told to find a place and line up five by five. I thought that I would die fast without suffering, thinking that my mother would never know where I finished.

"They began to shoot us in our backs. I don't know whether I lost consciousness but I lay on my stomach bleeding and trembling. The pain was unbearable.

"The shooting continued and I watched the lines of people falling down."

But at around midnight when the lorry was moving away Nedzad noticed a man who was moving. He asked him if he was alive and the man beckoned him to untie him.

They both succeeded in untying each other and avoided the next lorry as it came in. They helped each other through their survival.

"After days of suffering - wandering through the woods, hiding in the streams, sleeping in the graveyards, crawling with my terrible pain - we managed to reach the territory under Bosnian government control."

Fellow survivor Nura Begovic, 58, was born in Srebrenica and lost 16 members of her family during the mass killing.

Her husband Ahmet avoided the atrocity by reaching Tuzla in the socalled "Death March" - a 70-mile march to safety.

But Nura lost her brother Adil in the massacre - and has never found his remains. Adil was 42 when he was killed. He was born in Srebrenica and worked at a transport company.

Their mother died several years ago without burying her only son - something which haunts Nura to this very day.

"Talking about the events is very hard - 20 years after we are still searching for the remains of our loved ones," she said.

"The scenes and events can only be described as hell on earth."

But she added: "We don't hate anyone. We don't want to hate anyone. Seeking truth and justice is what is driving us and moving us forward."

CAPTION(S):

Nura Begovic

Nedzad Avdic

The Dutch UN commander takes presents from Ratko |Mladic In 1995

Men in a Bosnian concentration camp

Coffins ready to be buried at Potocari
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EXBO
Date:Jul 9, 2015
Words:1034
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