Serb win in Srebrenica vote 'could complete genocide'

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Muslims from Srebrenica, the site of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, fear a Bosnian Serb win in Sunday's local polls would represent "the final step of a genocide".

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

For almost 17 years, Srebrenica Muslims who lived elsewhere after fleeing the 1992-95 Bosnian 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.

A Serb win "would be quite simply the final step of a genocide, an ethnic cleansing" of Srebrenica, warned Kada Hotic, member of an organisation of Srebrenica mothers who lost her husband and a son in the massacre.

"Everything will be in danger, the existence of the Muslims who returned to Srebrenica, our memorial centre. We could even see a Serb mayor banning the yearly genocide commemoration," she said, explaining it is the mayor who needs to clear permits for the event.

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

Returnee Hatidza Mehmedovic, who lost her husband and two sons in the genocide, said she feels the new rules unfairly reward Serb wartime brutality.

"Serbs will never accept the truth of what happened here. They know very well but their politics will not allow them to admit it," she said from her house on the hills overlooking the town.

Srebrenica's pre-war population was around 37,000 residents: 27,000 Muslims and 8,300 Serbs. Today the municipality, hard-hit by the economic crisis and with an unemployment rate of over 50 percent, has about 6,000 inhabitants.

But thanks to several remaining loopholes, both camps have drummed up people to vote in Srebrenica, so some 14,000 voters divided almost equally among Muslims and Serbs are now registered.

Incumbent Srebrenica mayor Camil Durakovic, himself a massacre survivor, said he would consider leaving town if "those who deny genocide" win.

"It will be an end. I have a three-year-old daughter to think about," said the 33-year-old, who returned to Srebrenica in 2005 after spending almost a decade in the United States as a refugee.

"Here we should have a council that does not deny genocide, which is a sacred issue for Muslims and every normal human being," he said.

This Sunday, only those officially registered in Srebrenica will be entitled to vote.

Muslims blast the international community, which has refused to interfere, although it has the power to do so through its high representative in Bosnia.

"The international community has abandoned us now ... Srebrenica should be given back to the Muslims," Hotic said, calling for a special status for the town.

Serb politicians have fanned the flames of the controversy with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik telling a rally in Srebrenica in September: "There was no genocide!" evoking a "Western plan to blame the Serb community."

Serb mayoral candidate Vesna Kocevic said those who committed war crimes should be brought to justice, but she avoids using the term genocide.

"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.

On Sunday, some 3.1 million Bosnians will go to the polls in 136 municipalities to elect local councils and mayors.