Tensions rise in Srebrenica as Serb takes election lead

October 5, 2016 11:23 AM EDT

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By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Police interrupted election tellers in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, site of the 1995 genocide of 8,000 Muslims, just as they were about to recount ballots in a tense vote which may bring the town its first Serb mayor since the war.

Srebrenica became a symbol of Bosniak suffering in the 1992-95 Bosnian war when Bosnian Serb forces surrounded the town, a U.N-protected enclave, and killed its Muslim men and boys.

In Sunday's local election, 70 percent of votes cast locally went to a Bosnian Serb, Mladen Grujicic, causing uproar in a town that is still deeply scarred by the massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

Grujicic, like many other Serbs, denies that the massacre amounted to a genocide as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has ruled.

Incumbent mayor Camil Durakovic, a Muslim Bosniak, still hopes to overturn Grujicic's lead when the votes of thousands of Muslim Srebrenica survivors scattered around Bosnia and the world are counted in Sarajevo.

Bosnia's central election commission ordered a partial recount of votes already in because of suspected irregularities.

But the town's election authorities halted the recount on Wednesday after Bosnian Serb police entered their offices and questioned their chief. Police said they were securing election documents.

"This is direct pressure on the work of the municipal election commission," said chairman Nermin Alivuković, adding that they would await further instructions from Bosnia's Central Election Commission (CIK) before proceeding.

THREATS, DEMOLITIONS

The ICTY has jailed a number of Bosnian Serbs over the massacre. This year, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in jail for crimes including the massacre.

Most Serbs dispute the death toll as well as denying that the massacre, the final straw that triggered the NATO intervention that ended the war, amounts to a genocide.

On Tuesday, Grujicic said he had received telephoned threats against him and his family, and a restaurant owned by a Bosniak in Srebrenica was demolished the same night.

When Bosniaks began returning to Srebrenica after 2000, the international community, then closely involved in Bosnia's peace process, promised them protection. Now many fear they may be forced to leave their homes again.

Many returnees are elderly women who wanted to be close to the graves of their relatives. So far, the bodies of 6,300 victims have been found in hundreds of mass graves scattered across eastern Bosnia and moved to a cemetery on the edge of the town.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Richard Balmforth)



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