SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - A mayoral election in Bosnia on Sunday could see a Serb take control of Srebrenica for the first time since the mass killing of Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces in the town in 1995.
Some 8,000 Muslims, or Bosniaks, in the once predominantly Muslim region were slaughtered in five days by Bosnian Serb forces, the worst atrocity of the 1992-1995 war that killed 100,000 people in total.
Local elections are being held across the impoverished country, and in Srebrenica the prospect of a Serb victory at the site of Europe’s worst mass killing since World War Two has seen a rush to register voters by both sides.
Srebrenica was overwhelmingly Bosniak before the war, but refugee flight has tilted the balance and now Serbs form a majority of people living there.
Bosnia’s international peace overseers intervened in previous elections to allow those Bosniaks who had not returned and were not registered in Srebrenica to still vote for the mayor and local council.
Reflecting a more hands-off approach, they have refrained from interfering this year, meaning many Bosniaks are disqualified from the vote.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has ruled the Srebrenica massacre was genocide, but many Serbs dispute this.
Srebrenica is part of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, whose president, Milorad Dodik, has repeatedly denied that genocide took place.
Many Bosniaks see the prospect of Dodik’s mayoral candidate winning as a threat to their efforts to keep the memory of the crime alive and to the status of the memorial complex where more than 5,600 victims are interred.
“This is not about the two ethnic groups,” said Camil Durakovic, the Bosniak candidate for mayor. “This is about two groups of the Bosnian citizens - those who recognize the genocide and those who deny it.”
“That is something that is sacred for Bosniaks,” said Durakovic, who escaped the massacre as a 16-year-old boy. “The memorial complex is a red line which must not be crossed.”
Durakovic led a drive to register as many pre-war Srebrenica Bosniaks as possible. He said each side now had around 6,500 voters.
Ordinary voters, Serbs and Bosniaks alike, spoke less of the past and more of needing jobs and prosperity.
The mayor and local council will be in charge of local economic development projects, education policy and care of schools and religious and cultural buildings, including the memorial complex.
“Change will come only with new generations, who will not be poisoned with hatred and who have not been through the war and suffering,” said Miro Filipovic, a 58-year-old Serb locksmith.
Sixty-one-year-old Bosniak carpenter Salih Jusic said he expected little to change, but added:
“I’ll vote for Camil (Durakovic), because he can fight to help the Bosniaks.”
Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Alison Williams