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Bosnia Massacre Mourned Years Later

April 16, 2000

AHMICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Croats and Muslims both prayed for victims on Sunday _ their own, slaughtered by the other side in the brutal war that tore this region apart.

For Muslims, the day was the seventh anniversary of the Ahmici massacre, a horrific wave of killing described by a judge as ``one of the most vicious illustrations of man’s inhumanity to man.″ For Croats, it became a chance to mourn their own dead from the years of conflict.

Since the war ended, Croats and Muslims have learned to coexist in the half of Bosnia they run. But there was no love lost between the sides on the anniversary of the massacre.

A road separates mostly Muslim Ahmici from the neighboring Croat community of Vitez. On Sunday, Vitez residents hoisted a 16-foot cross facing Ahmici to commemorate Croats who died in the city, which was besieged by Muslim forces in 1993-1994.

The Croatian anthem blared as the cross was erected, along with a sign reading: ``In 316 days of the Muslim siege of Vitez, 653 Croats were killed.″

The ceremony didn’t sit well with some of those across the road, where Muslims were mourning their own dead.

``Putting it up at this place and on this day is pure provocation and fascism,″ said one Muslim, Ahmic, who refused to give his full name.

A few hours after the Croat ceremony, the voice of a Muslim priest rang out over the Lasva Valley, calling for prayer for the more than 100 Muslims who died here.

The massacre occurred on April 16, 1993, when Ahmici’s Muslims were awakened by Croatian militiamen storming into their homes. Entire families were gunned down and homes were set ablaze. Many of those who survived the bullets were burned alive.

Before the attack, 356 Muslims and 87 Croats lived in the village. Immediately afterward, no Muslims remained. Croat homes were left untouched.

Muslims and Croats battled in a war within the Bosnian war, which saw both ethnic groups fight the Serbs.

International officials assigned most blame for the Muslim-Croat fighting to radical Bosnian Croats, abetted by Croatia’s late president, Franjo Tudjman, in their goal of wresting a piece of Bosnia away from the rest of the country.

Eighty-five Muslim families have since returned to their homes in Ahmici, reconstructed with international donations, and are living alongside the few dozen remaining Croats.

``Even little children here know what happened that day,″ said one Muslim, Sulejman Ahmic, who said he lost 18 members of his family in the slaughter. ``We will never forget it.″

Indicative of the gravity of the crimes at Ahmici has been the international response they provoked.

Croat Gen. Tihomir Blaskic was sentenced to 45 years in prison earlier this year by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the massacre and other Bosnian war crimes _ the most severe punishment handed out by the tribunal to date. Five other Croats began serving prison sentences of up to 25 years at the start of this year for participating in the slaughter.

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