SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Hundreds of people lined Sarajevo's main street Monday as trucks bearing 520 coffins passed through on their way to Srebrenica, where the newly identified victims of Europe's worst massacre since World War II will be buried.
Whispered Muslim prayers turned louder and mixed with sobbing when the three trucks appeared, slowly approaching the Bosnian Presidency building where they stopped for a few minutes in a sign of respect. The weeping crowd tucked flowers into canvas covering the trucks as they drove down a street sprinkled with ceremonial rose water.
Many stood silently praying in front of the trucks, others caressed the yellow canvas covering the coffins.
"Uncover them!" demanded Ajkuna Muhic. "Let me see him. Oh my son."
Muhic's son and husband were found in mass graves around Srebrenica that Serb forces dug up to hide evidence of their mass execution of the city's men and boys in July 1995. She will bury both on Wednesday. The Muslim Bosniak town was under U.N. protection when Serbs overran it and carried out the carnage.
The 520 sets of remains, identified through DNA tests, will be buried at a memorial center near Srebrenica on the 17th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 men and boys, defined by the International Court of Justice as genocide.
The bodies have been excavated for years. The perpetrators secretly dug up the original mass graves with bulldozers, then drove decomposing remains to other locations and buried them there. That is how many bodies were ripped apart and parts of the same person can be found at several locations spread through eastern Bosnia.
Ahmo Catic, 53, had been looking for his father Bekir since 1995; he will finally bury him this year. Parts of his father's body were found in five different mass graves, reassembled and identified through DNA analysis by the International Commission for Missing Persons.
"May those who killed him look for their loved ones the same way I have for 17 years," he said.
Currently, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army general Ratko Mladic are on trial for genocide at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
But Suhreta Malic, who already was waiting for the coffins at the memorial center near Srebrenica thought The Hague was not the right venue for the trial.
"They can't see this sea of graves from The Hague," she said, looking out at more than 5,000 white gravestones. "Here! We want him back here, in this valley of death and pain, among the grave stones. He must be brought here for the trial, so he can see for himself what he has done."
Every year tens of thousands of people gather on July 11 in Srebrenica for the funeral of hundreds of victims. Many come from countries where they have settled after surviving the massacre.
Snjezana Tigerman, 49, came to her hometown of Sarajevo from Canada on vacation and decided to join the crowd in the heat on Monday. She always watched Srebrenica funerals on TV or on the Internet but being here was overwhelming, she said.
"It is really hitting me," she said, wiping tears. "This is real."