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Clinton Urges Tolerance at Bosnia Event

September 20, 2003

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Former President Clinton called for ethnic and religious tolerance Saturday as he joined survivors of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II in opening a memorial center for the victims.

Srebrenica, 50 miles northeast of Sarajevo, had been declared a ``safe zone″ by the United Nations when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb soldiers in July 1995. The soldiers executed up to 8,000 Muslims, most of them men and boys.

The slaughter has become a symbol for the brutality of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, which pitted the country’s Muslims, Orthodox Christian Serbs and Catholic Croats against each other. The war killed 260,000 and forced 1.8 million to flee their homes.

``I hope the very mention of the name Srebrenica will remind every child in the world that pride in our own religious or ethnic heritage does not require or permit us to dehumanize or kill those who are different,″ Clinton told an audience of 15,000, most of them women.

``I hope and pray that Srebrenica will be for all the world, a sober reminder of our common humanity.″

Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre invited Clinton to preside over the opening ceremony because of his crucial role in ending the war. His administration persuaded NATO to bomb Bosnian Serb artillery positions and later brought together the leaders of the warring parties in Dayton, Ohio, to negotiate the peace deal that ended the bloodshed.

``Bad people who lusted for power killed these good people simply because of who they were,″ Clinton said.

``They sought power through genocide, but Srebrenica was the beginning of the end of genocide in Europe. It enabled me to secure NATO support for the bombing that led to the peace that put Bosnia-Herzegovina back on the long road to a normal life.″

He asked the victims to find strength to forgive, but also called for justice for those responsible for the massacre and other war crimes _ a reference to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. The two men have been charged with genocide by the U.N. war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, and are believed to be hiding in Bosnia or Serbia.

``The search for them must continue,″ Clinton said.

``We owe it to the men and boys buried in this hollowed ground, we owe it to the wives and children who survived them, we owe it to all Bosnian children yet unborn to see that justice is done.″

After his speech, Clinton and top Bosnian and international officials attended the funeral of 107 victims exhumed from mass graves.

So far, 5,000 bodies have been recovered from areas near Srebrenica. Of those, 1,083 have been identified using DNA.

Clinton, his head bowed, used a shovel to cover the coffin containing the body of Azem Delic, 15, with dirt. Azem, two of his brothers and his father were executed at Srebrenica, and the four were buried together Saturday.

``I lived in hope for over eight years,″ said Bida Delic, 37, and the widow of Azem’s brother Aziz. ``But a month ago I received a call and was told his remains were found, and something in me died that day.″

As hundreds of people dropped on their knees to pray for the dead, Clinton laid a bouquet of red and white flowers at the central monument.

Local police, NATO-led peacekeepers, European Union Police Mission officers and 300 civilians were proving security for the memorial. Four U.S. Apache helicopters hovered over Potocari, the village near Srebrenica where the memorial center is located.

Later, Clinton visited former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic at Sarajevo’s main hospital, where he is in critical condition following a fall in his home, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said. Izetbegovic, 78, broke four ribs in the fall on Wednesday.

The $5.8 million memorial-cemetery complex has been financed by private and government donations. The United States provided $1million for the project.

The complex consists of burial fields around a central area that features an open-air prayer room, a crypt with a garden, a memorial room, service facilities and parking.

Saturday’s ceremony featured a choir performance of a composition that envisions the victims talking to the survivors.

``Mother, I am looking for you. Sister, I love you. I can’t find you, where are you,″ the choir sang as women in the crowd wept.

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