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Bosnia youth honour victims of Prijedor camps

03 june 2013, 10:01
0
©AFP
©AFP
Hundreds of youth gathered Friday to mark the 1992 ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs in Prijedor, one of the deadliest episodes of the Bosnian war, in an unprecedented commemoration attended by members of the local Serb community, AFP reports.

"This is the first time in Bosnia that we try to show to political officials and citizens that the time has come to have a better society," said Drazana Lepir, who travelled to this northwestern town from Banja Luka, capital of Bosnia's Serb-run entity Republika Srpska.

"Our message will probably touch rather citizens than politicians. But I think that youth is the power. Seeing how many of them came today to support this initiative, I think we are on the right path," the Bosnian Serb told AFP.

In the first months of the 1992-1995 conflict, 3,227 Muslims and Croats, including 228 women and 123 children, were killed in Prijedor, according to the local association Izvor.

To pay homage to the victims, several hundred people, mainly youths, marched through the centre of Prijedor wearing white armbands similar to those the Serbs ordered Croats and Muslims to wear as of May 31, 1992.

Non-Serbs were also ordered to hang a white cloth outside their homes on that date, marking the beginning of a months-long campaign of expulsions, arrests and executions.

After Bosnian Serb forces took control in the region of Prijedor in April 1992, non Serbs were hunted and killed. Several thousand people were imprisoned in detention camps.

The first images of skeletal detainees in the camps emerged in August 1992 and attracted the world's attention to the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

"I remember that day, May 31, 1992. I wore a white armband just like this one at the time," Rifet Alejsic, a 73-year old Muslim inhabitant of Prijedor, said during the procession.

The youths in Friday's procession also carried 123 roses, one for every child who was killed or went missing during the Prijedor massacres.

They laid the flowers on the pavement in the shape of a memorial which they have long campaigned for but whose construction has been denied by the authorities.

"Local authorities have prevented victims' families from visiting the sites of the detention camps," said Tijana Cvjeticanin, a member of the "Because It Concerns Me" group that organised the commemoration.

"One of those sites, a steel mine in Omarska, is controlled by (steel giant) ArcelorMittal. The owner does not allow victims' relatives free access," she said. "Therefore, we demand the local authorities allow the construction of a monument in downtown Prijedor."

Several former Bosnian Serb military and political officials were sentenced by international or local justice for their role in the crimes committed in Prijedor.

The mayor of Prijedor at the time, Milomir Stakic, was jailed in 2006 for 40 years. Zeljko Mejakic, a commander of the Omarska death camp, where several hundred prisoners were killed, was sentenced in 2009 to 21 years in prison.

The war in Bosnia claimed some 100,000 lives and displaced more than two million people, almost half of the pre-war population.

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