Srebrenica ceremonies may be cancelled over arrest

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Ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims next month could be cancelled over the arrest of a former commander on a war crimes warrant from Serbia, organisers said Tuesday.

The mass killings in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995 — labelled genocide by two international tribunals — were carried out by Bosnian Serb forces shortly before the end of the country’s inter-ethnic war.

Naser Oric, who led Bosnian Muslim forces in the east during the 1992-1995 war, was arrested on June 10 in Geneva, accused of war crimes against Serbs during the conflict, and put in detention pending possible extradition to Serbia.

“If Naser Oric is not released by June 30 we will meet to cancel the ceremonies planned for July 11,” said Hatidza Mehmedovic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, one of groups organising the events that were expected to attract thousands.

The arrest has sparked outrage in Bosnia and risks worsening relations with Belgrade.

Organisers explained that the commemoration would be cancelled for security reasons, with the arrest provoking “very tense” relations between Serb and Muslim communities in the town, Mehmedovic said.

Srebrenica’s Muslim mayor, Camil Durakovic, told reporters that they “could not guarantee” security during the commemoration and “we can no longer tolerate such an attitude towards the victims of the genocide”.

Mehmedovic told AFP that the events were due to include a mass funeral for more than 130 newly identified victims at Srebrenica’s memorial centre, where 6,241 have already been buried.

More than 50,000 people, including families and friends of victims as well as local and foreign dignitaries, were expected to attend the commemoration of the massacre, the worst to occur in Europe since World War II.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Oric in 2006 and sentenced him to two years in prison for not doing enough to prevent crimes committed by his subordinates against Serbs.

He was acquitted on all charges on appeal in 2008 on the grounds of insufficient evidence.