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Europe

Scars of Srebrenica still visible 15 years on

It's been 15 years since the massacre of Srebrenica left thousands of Bosnian Muslims dead. The people on both sides of that conflict are slowly finding common ground now, but the tragedy is never far from their minds.

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This cemetary in Srebrenica is a memorial to the massacre

The Cimos factory on the outskirts of Srebrenica is alive with the sound of its vast machinery whirring into action. Emulsifying fluid spews out of various contraptions; soldered metal produces an acrid smell that pervades the space. This is where material is produced to be made into car parts that will be sold to firms like Renault or Toyota.

A factory floor

The Cimos factory has brought Bosnian Muslims and Serbs together

But the factory is known for something more unusual. It is the biggest mixed employer in the area: of its 100 workers, 77 are Bosnian Muslim and the rest Bosnian Serbs. Just 15 years have passed since these two communities - as well as the Bosnian Croats - fought each other in a devastating civil war that killed 100,000 people. And 15 years have passed since Srebrenica itself saw the brutal culmination of that war.

This eastern town, in the heart of Serb-held territory, had been declared a United Nations 'safe zone,' to which thousands of Muslims fled during the war. But the small Dutch UN force protecting the area proved little match for the Bosnian Serb army, which besieged Srebrenica, separating out the population. The women were loaded onto buses to be led to safety, while the men and boys were taken off to be shot, with others murdered as they tried to flee into the forests. The UN says over 7,000 were killed over five days in July 1995. It was Europe's worst act of mass murder since World War II.

Employment aids reconciliation

Bringing the two communities together - Serb and Muslim - in a working environment has taken time and is still on a limited scale. But there are signs that providing employment aids reconciliation. "They all get on well here," says Azem Huremovic, the factory director. "They're delighted to have jobs. It's those who have nothing to do during their days who dwell on the past."

Almedina Jasarevic

Jasarevic lost her father and brother in 1995

Almedina Jasarevic, a 23-year-old Muslim employee seems, at first, to agree. "The Serbs are here to make money, just like me," she told Deutsche Welle. "I have no problem with them." But then she speaks about her father and brother who were lost during the massacre. The tears come as she recalls how only some of her father's remains have been found. "They talk and laugh with you as if nothing happened," she said. "They know what they did. They're not ashamed of it - and they should be."

But that's a view rejected by many Serbs here. They feel unfairly demonized by the West and don't believe the international organizations that continue to identify victims found in mass graves through DNA analysis.

Mladen Grujicic works for an association helping the families of Serb victims from the war, which he says have been forgotten. "The Serb people are portrayed in the media as committing genocide, but it isn't so," he said in his tiny office in the center of town. "I don't believe that 7,000 or 8,000 people were killed because the Muslims themselves don't agree. No Serbs contest that a crime was committed in Srebrenica, but we're offended when from four you make eight, or from three you make six," he says.

Ongoing segregation

Damaged buildings in Srebrenica

Visible evidence of the war makes it hard to forget

It is entrenched positions and separate truths that have fuelled the ongoing segregation here, exacerbated by chronic unemployment. And with many of the buildings in town still riddled with bullet holes, it is hard to escape the painful memories.

But for one returnee, the fact of coming back has helped him to move on. Rob Zomer is a former Dutch soldier who was stationed with the UN force in Srebrenica in 1995. Dutch soldiers were widely blamed for failing to stop the killings; the entire Dutch government resigned in 2002 after an independent report criticized both the UN and the Netherlands for their mistakes in Srebrenica.

But 15 years on, Zomer has decided to return, building a family home in the surrounding mountains. "I have history here - bad or good," he said as we surveyed the construction site. "But that's not why I came back. I came for mountains, forests and no stress. Some people ask whether I returned because of guilt," he added. "Absolutely not. We did more than we could for the people here."

Rob Zomer

Former Dutch soldier Rob Zomer has found his peace in Srebrenica

Zomer recalls how he suffered from post-traumatic stress after leaving Srebrenica - and how coming back has helped ease that. "When you come here and local people say, 'Thank you that you tried to protect my family in '95,' that's a good feeling," he said.

Everyone here has their way of trying to lay the past to rest - but it's hard to see how this still unhappy town can truly move on. Srebrenica - it means 'silver town' after the silver and zinc mines the area boasted years ago. It is an evocative, romantic name. But since 1995 the glint has been dulled. And maybe it will never shine again.

Author: Mark Lowen, Srebrenica
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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