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Armed Conflict

Bosnians bury ethnically cleansed victims

Thousands of Bosnians have gathered for a mass funeral for their loved ones more than 20 years after they were killed in the country's civil war. Many of the bodies were only discovered recently in a nearby mass grave.

Most of the 284 victims laid out in green coffins at a sports field in Kozarac on Sunday were men and all but one - a Roman Catholic Croat - were Muslims.

The grand mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Husein Kavazovic, led the prayers for the dead before the coffins were loaded into vehicles to be buried in their home villages throughout the region, which is now part of the mainly Serb Republika Srpska.

"In this valley of martyrs, the silence speaks more than words. A genocide was committed here. This evil has shocked us all," he told the crowd. Some responded by shouting "allahu akbar" (God is great).

Ethnic cleansing

The victims, who were found in mass graves, including a huge one in the nearby village of Tomasica last year, were identified through DNA analysis. They were killed in the summer of 1992 when Bosnian Serb forces went from house to house in the Prijedor region, killing members of the Muslim or Croat ethnic groups. They then dumped the bodies in mass graves, including the one at Tomasica, which, containing around 400 bodies, was one of Bosnia's biggest.

The practice of killing members of other ethnic groups soon became known as a policy of ethnic cleansing.

Valentin Inzko, the international High Representative to Bosnia, told the mourners on Sunday that "different communities do not have to live separated. Accepting this as an argument would be an insult for these victims because they were killed in the name of that ideology."

Evidence collected from Tomasica is to be used in the war-crimes trials of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic in The Hague.

Sunday's funeral service comes just days after 175 victims of the Srebrenica massacre were laid to rest in the east of the country. Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed with Serb forces overran the United Nations protected area, beginning on July 11, 1995. So far, more than 6,000 victims have been buried at the memorial and cemetery at Potocari, just outside of Srebrenica. Each year on the anniversary, the latest victims to be identified are laid to rest.

pfd/msh (AFP, AP)

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