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May 27, 2017

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Mom finally buries 2 sons, victims of Srebrenica massacre

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina--Hajrija Selimovic waited for 19 years to put her family back together.

Her husband and her two sons were being reunited Friday in a cemetery for Srebrenica massacre victims. After that, she will always be able to find them — and lean her head against their cold, white tombstones when she cries.

Samir was 23 and Nermin only 19 when the Serb execution squad shot them.

The three were among the 8,000 Muslim men and boys executed when Serb forces overran the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995 — Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

Even as the years pass, the remains of Srebrenica victims are still being found in mass graves. Every July 11, more are buried at a memorial center near the town.

This year, Selimovic's two sons will be among the 175 newly identified victims laid to rest next to the 6,066 previously buried ones. It's also the site where last year she buried her husband Hasan, who was found in 2001.

"I didn't want to bury him because they only found his head and a few little bones," she said, explaining why she waited for so many years.

"I waited, thinking the rest will be found and then everything can be buried at once ... but there was nothing else and we buried what we had," she said.

The eastern town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the majority Muslim town, rounding up Srebrenica's Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide.

After the massacre, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright waved satellite photos of mass graves in Bosnia at the U.N. Security Council. Washington knew where the mass graves were, she told them.

That's when Serb troops rushed to the sites with bulldozers and moved the Srebrenica victims to other locations. As the machines ploughed up bodies, they ripped them apart, and now fragments of the same person can be scattered among several different sites.

"The perpetrators had every hope that these people would be wiped out and never found again," said Kathryne Bomberger, head of the International Commission for Missing Persons, a Bosnia-based DNA identification project.

The ICMP, established in 1996 at the urging of former President Bill Clinton, has collected almost 100,000 blood samples from relatives of the missing from the Yugoslav wars. It has analyzed their DNA profiles and is now matching them with profiles extracted from the estimated 50,000 bone samples that have been exhumed.

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