Bosnian Muslim leader pays tribute to Sarajevo Serb victims

Sarajevo (AFP) - A Bosnian Muslim leader on Monday paid tribute for the first time to Serb civilians killed in Sarajevo during the 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war, expressing regret for lost lives.

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, came to Kazani, on the heights of Sarajevo, where several dozen Serb civilians were killed by the majority Bosnian Muslim army and dumped in a ravine.

No senior Muslim official has ever before been to the massacre site.

Accompanied by other Bosnian Muslim leaders, including Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic, Izetbegovic laid flowers on the edge of the ravine.

"I feel I have a debt (towards the victims). I should have come here earlier to express my regrets and express condolences to the people who have ended up here in an awful way," Izetbegovic said.

"This is the main reason why I came here... But I also hope that this gesture will inspire others to do something similar," he added, referring to Bosnian Serb and Croat officials.

During almost the entire war, for more than three years, Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serb forces.

More than 10,000 people were killed either by shelling or by snipers during the siege, the worst in the modern history of Europe.

However, mostly between the spring and fall of 1993, a number of Serb civilians were taken from their homes and killed, including several dozen in Kazani.

A notorious criminal who commanded a defence unit of Sarajevo, Musan Topalovic, nicknamed Caco, is considered the main person responsible for these crimes. He was killed in October 1993 under circumstances that remain unclear after being arrested by Bosnian Muslim forces.

The bodies of 29 people were exhumed from the Kazani grave, although the exhumations have never been completed.

Milan Mandic, president of an association of families of Serbs who disappeared in the Sarajevo region, hailed a "brave gesture for Serb people and the families" of victims.

"In the capacity as the most influential politician among Bosniaks (Muslims), he found strength to come to this place and lay flowers in the memory of these innocent victims," Mandic told AFP.

The Bosnian war claimed more than 100,000 lives and left homeless more than a half of country's pre-war four-million population.

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