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One mother's catharsis on Srebrenica anniversary

6:22 AM, Jul 10, 2011   |    comments
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Two pelvic bones and a fragment of the lower jaw are what remain of Hotic's son Samir, who was killed by Serb forces in the killing fields of Srebrenica. They were dug up this year and identified - and now he will have a proper funeral along with 612 other newly identified massacre victims.

"They said I should not be looking for more," she said of the remains. "In a way I am happy, if this can be called happiness. But the alternative is not finding anything and that would have been worse."

There's something else that makes Hotic happy.

She came face to face last month with the man she blames for Samir's death: former Serb general Ratko Mladic, who was captured in May and is standing trial in The Hague, Netherlands on charges of masterminding Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

Last month, her eyes met Mladic's through the glass barrier that divided the courtroom from the audience chamber. She pointed at him, then at herself, slowly dragged a finger across her throat - and waved it Mladic.

"You killed my only son," she said the gestures meant. "Now you will pay for it."

Srebrenica - with its majority Muslim population - was a U.N.-protected area, besieged by Serb forces throughout the 1992-95 war for Serb domination in Bosnia.

But U.N. troops there offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town on July 11, 1995. There, Serbs proceeded to round up Srebrenica's Muslims and killed more than 8,000 men and boys - the climax to the 1992-95 Bosnian war that claimed 100,000 lives. An international court later labeled the killings a genocide.

Hotic lost 29-year-old Samir, her husband Sead, two brothers, and many men in her wider family.

The killers plowed the bodies into hastily dug mass graves, which they later reopened to move the bodies to other sites in an attempt to hide the crime. They worked with bulldozers that ripped bodies apart.

Forensic experts have been painstakingly assembling complete skeletons and checking each bone against the DNA from survivors' blood samples.

Most of the time, however, families don't get anything near a full set of bones. They just bury body parts so they have a grave to visit at the Potocari memorial center near Srebrenica, built across the former U.N. base where Bosnian Muslims had sought shelter.

Hotic sat there paralyzed with fear 16 years ago, listening to the general issuing orders as U.N. peacekeepers stood idly by.

"He told them 'my Serb brothers, you have green light, use this opportunity, one like this will not be offered to you again," she remembers. Then she watched soldiers separating men from women - and taking the men away, it turned out, for execution.

The memorial was built in 2003 at the site where she last saw her son and husband. That year, Hotic buried her husband, whose remains had already been found.

Through the years, Hotic has found special ways to keeping her son alive. Samir was a smoker and blew rings "you could push a stick through."

After Srebrenica, she took up smoking and practicing smoke rings.

"If I would manage to make one, I imagined it was his."

Since 2003, she has been going to Potocari every year for the mass funerals, in which almost 4,000 victims have been laid to rest. As of Monday, one of the gravestones will read Samir Hotic.

And with closure near, she has quit smoking.

"The waiting was not in vain," she said. "I may be a victim, I lost my loved ones but I am the winner."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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