Thousands march to remember Srebrenica massacre victims

 People march near the village of Nezuk, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
People march near the village of Nezuk, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.REUTERS

NEZUK, Bosnia-Hercegovina (AFP) - Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre set out with thousands of others Wednesday on a solemn 105km march ahead of the 20th anniversary of the killing of nearly 8,000 Muslims near the UN-protected enclave.

Their route across Bosnia retraces the one taken by the men and boys fleeing Bosnian Serb forces who later overran Srebrenica, setting the stage for what many describe as a genocide.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, Russia vetoed a draft resolution recognising the massacre as genocide.

Within days of the July 11, 1995, assault by the Serb troops nearly 8,000 of those men and boys were massacred in what was Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

In total some 10,000 to 15,000 Muslim men and boys tried to escape on foot through the forests to Muslim-controlled territory in the hours before the Serbs arrived.

The lucky ones reached Muslim territory within five days, although some took over a month to reach safety.

Some survivors have joined in the three-day memorial march along the 105km route, heading from the eastern town of Nezuk to Srebrenica.

The marchers were walking in the opposite direction taken by the fleeing Muslims, who arrived in Nezuk after escaping Srebrenica.

"It took me seven days to reach Nezuk. It was horrible... dead people, blood everywhere. I saw my neighbours, friends, relatives, but they couldn't be helped," one participant, Nedzad Mujic, 46, told AFP.

"We were all fighting for our own lives. Some people even left their own children behind," said Mujic, struggling not to cry.

The marchers are due to arrive at a Srebrenica memorial centre in Potocari on the eve of a commemoration of the massacre's 20th anniversary on Saturday.

'NEVER FORGET'

On Wednesday, some marching at the front of the column carried wartime-era Bosnian flags and many wore white T-shirts that read "I survived".

"I take part in this march every year so that what we went through is not forgotten," Mujic said.

"The world should never forget a genocide was committed here," he said, recalling the atrocity in which he lost his father, a brother and several other male members of his family.

Mujic recalled the last day he saw them - July 10.

"That July 10 for me meant separation from my family... It was goodbye. I never saw them again."

The remains of his loved ones were found, identified and buried at a Srebrenica memorial in 2006.

Only parts of most victims' remains have been found. In many cases their bones were moved from mass graves to so-called "secondary" graves in an effort to hide the true extent of the massacre.

So far, the remains of more than 6,000 Srebrenica victims have been found, painstakingly identified and reburied.

Although the massacre occurred two decades ago, Bosnian Serb and Serbian leaders have persistently refused to describe it as genocide as defined by international courts.

Another survivor Suad Pasalic, who is now living in the Netherlands, remembered that in the forests they were "hunted like rabbits".

The 53-year-old recalled that when he finally arrived in the Muslim-controlled territory "at first I was happy, but then miserable, waiting in vain for the arrival of my cousins, neighbours, friends.

"But 80 per cent of them never arrived," he said in a trembling voice.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia said he would attend the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre this weekend in a bid to forge reconciliation.

"It is time to show that we are ready for reconciliation," he said.

But Serbia has been upset with the British attempt to have the UN Security Council pass a resolution saying recognition of genocide "is a prerequisite for reconciliation."

Bosnia's 1992-1995 war between its Croats, Muslims and Serbs claimed some 100,000 lives.

Four other countries at the UN Security Council - Angola, China, Nigeria and Venezuela - abstained from the vote on Wednesday condemning the mass killing as an act of genocide.