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Sarajevo marks 20th anniversary of brutal conflict

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-04-06

Sarajevo marked on Friday the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian War, a conflict that saw two million displaced and 100,000 killed. The nation still struggles with the legacy of the brutal conflict, with ongoing simmering ethnic tensions.

AFP - More than 11,000 red chairs lined Sarajevo's main avenue on Friday as Bosnians marked the 20th anniversary of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II with songs and remembrance.

Thousands of people gathered as a choir accompanied by a small classical orchestra performed an arrangement of 14 songs, most of them composed during the city's bloody siege.

"Why are you not here?" they sang to the 11,541 empty seats on Marshal Tito Avenue, one for each civilian killed in the city during the 1992-95 war.

People placed white roses on some of the chairs, while on the smaller seats symbolising the hundreds of children killed sat teddy bears, toys and school books.

"The amount of empty chairs shows the horror that we lived through," Hazima Hadzovic said.

"I just feel the need to come and honour the victims. I lost so many friends I cannot even remember all of their names now," the 56-year-old told AFP.

The ceremonies were taking place exactly 20 years since ethnic Serb snipers fired on a peace protest attended by thousands of Bosnians, shattering the last hopes for peace.

As the first civilian casualties of the war fell, the European Union recognised Bosnia's independence from the former Yugoslavia on April 6, 1992.

In the following three and a half years the country was torn apart along ethnic lines.

Some 100,000 people were killed and half the population of 4.4 million fled their homes.

Many in Sarajevo live daily with the memories of the longest city siege in modern history. For 44 months Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serbs shelled the town from the hills above and snipers shot pedestrians at random.

"I mostly recall the near continuous bombardment, the snipers, the dead," 64-year-old Fuad Novalija, a craftsman in Sarajevo's old town, told AFP.

"The shells fell when we least expected them. People were killed as they queued for water or bread."

While the city's most symbolic buildings have all been restored, Sarajevo still bears the traces of shells and bullets.

It was the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims after the fall of the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serbs that finally led to NATO intervention.

Five months after the massacre -- labelled a genocide by a UN war crimes tribunal and the UN's top court, the International Court of Justice -- the Western-imposed Dayton peace agreement ended the war.

Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are both facing trial for genocide before the UN war crimes court in The Hague for Srebrenica. The other main protagonists of the war have all died or have been convicted of war crimes.

While Dayton brought peace, it also cemented the ethnic divisions that still haunt the country today, creating a state composed of the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska.

The two semi-autonomous statelets have their own political institutions, loosely connected through an almost powerless central government.

Craftsman Novalija said Bosnia has been stagnating politically since the end of the war as the economic situation deteriorates.

"We have peace now, but that is really the only progress," he concluded bitterly.

Date created : 2012-04-06


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