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Srebrenica votes with Bosnian Serb tipped for mayor

SREBRENICA (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA) (AFP) – 

Twenty-one years after the death of her brother in the Srebrenica massacre, Sehida Abdurahmanovic anxiously awaits Sunday’s local elections in Bosnia, in which a Serb is favoured to become her mayor.

Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, is today a microcosm of the fragile Balkan country.

Serb and Muslim communities live side-by-side in the town but by no means together, still distrustful more than two decades after the Bosnian war that claimed 100,000 lives and displaced two million people.

The local elections in Srebrenica will be a political confrontation between the two communities, although the candidates have vowed to work for the benefit of all citizens

This year the tensions are particularly strong, intensified by the decision of Bosnian Serbs at a referendum last weekend to continue celebrating their “national holiday” — despite Sarajevo authorities ruling the holiday and the vote illegal.

The Dayton peace accords that ended the war in 1995 split Bosnia into two semi-independent entities linked by weak central institutions — the Republika Srpska (RS) and a Muslim-Croat federation.

Srebrenica, which lies in the Bosnian Serb-run entity RS, has had a Muslim mayor since 1999.

Today there are 7,700 Bosnian Serbs and 6,050 Muslims who can vote for mayor of a town notorious as a scene of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

Bosnian Serb forces under general Ratko Mladic carried out the mass executions in several days in July 1995, despite the enclave being under UN protection.

The body of Abdurahmanovic’s brother Meho was never found.

– ‘Not moral or just’ –

“I think the time has not come for a Serb to become the mayor of Srebrenica, because this is the town where genocide was committed,” said Abdurahmanovic, whose house is several metres from the memorial centre where 6,600 victims are buried.

Both the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice have agreed that the massacre was genocide.

Abdurahmanovic’s husband Jakub was also killed in Srebrenica in May 1992 after being taken from his apartment by Serb paramilitaries.

“Having a Serb mayor would not be moral or just,” insisted the energetic woman in her 60s, with bright blue eyes.

The outgoing Muslim mayor Camil Durakovic, 37, is a survivor of the massacre and has led the town for the last six years. According to the teams of the two candidates, his Serb rival, 34-year-old Mladen Grujicic, has a better chance of winning.

Grujicic’s father was among 3,200 Serb soldiers and civilians killed in the area during the war, according to figures from Serb victims’ associations.

Among the campaign posters a third person has appeared, Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj.

Muslims consider the Belgrade-based politician an advocate of ethnic cleansing even though a UN war crimes court acquitted him earlier this year.

“Srebrenica in safe hands,” reads the message below the picture of Seselj, who — as persona non grata in Bosnia — is campaigning from a distance for the Serb mayoral candidate.

– ‘Fatal and disastrous’ –

Grujicic enjoys the backing of all Serb political parties and Durakovic of all Muslim groups.

For Durakovic, the victory of his rival will be “fatal and disastrous” for the town, marking a “definitive end” to the presence of Muslims — he fears the Serb mayor could cause them to flee.

Grujicic, a chemistry teacher, says he wants “to stop the constant departure of citizens from both communities” due to economic difficulties.

As for the wartime massacre, he admits that “the crime against Muslims happened”.

“I leave to competent institutions to qualify it,” he told AFP.

Calling it an act of genocide would alienate him from many Serb voters in Srebrenica.

“Crimes were committed here against both communities. Are we going to have better lives in Srebrenica if I say it was genocide?” he said.

© 2016 AFP