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June 24, 2017

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Srebrenica under spotlight in Bosnia municipal vote

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Hercegovina--Bosnia voted in local polls on Sunday with all eyes turned towards the eastern town of Srebrenica, site of the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men, amid fears that Serbs could take control of the once Muslim-majority municipality.

New electoral rules have paved the way for the Serb community to win office in Srebrenica, a move that has fueled inter-ethnic disputes in the town that became a gruesome symbol of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

Local Muslim politicians complained that they have been abandoned by the international community, while their Serb opponents continued to deny that the events of 1995 constituted genocide, despite the rulings of two international courts.

Incumbent Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic, himself a massacre survivor, said Sunday's vote in which he is running for re-election would be "the most important one since the end of the war."

Although Bosnian President Milorad Dodik and other top Serb officials who visited Srebrenica during the election campaign, have denied genocide, Serb mayoral candidate Vesna Kocevic avoided using the term while acknowledging that war crimes had been committed.

"Serb people carry the burden of these events ... why should my children, who were aged one and two at the time, suffer from it today?" she said.

Voters are choosing not only the mayor but members of the 23-strong local council.

Bosnian Serb forces summarily executed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys after they captured the town in July 1995. Two international courts have ruled the massacre a genocide.

The Muslims who survived were expelled and most of them never returned to Srebrenica, which now lies in the Serb-dominated part of the Balkan country.

For almost 17 years, Srebrenica Muslims who fled to other countries after the war were allowed to vote in local elections, ensuring the town had a Muslim mayor. But this year, they have been stripped of that right after complex local voting laws were reformed, prompting fears that Serbs, who have a slight majority in the town, can now vote in their candidate as mayor.

Some 14,000 voters divided almost equally between Muslims and Serbs are now registered.

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