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On July 12, 1995, as Bosnian Serb forces were pouring into the UN-protected ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica, eight-year-old Izudin Alic was with his grandfather near the UN peacekeepers’ base in nearby Potocari, where thousands of Bosniaks were trying to seek refuge.
“My grandfather sent me to get some water and I saw a group of kids… I recall seeing some soldiers giving away something. I ran, and a man in a Serb uniform touched my hair, asked for my name and age, and gave me some chocolates,” Alic recalled.
“I was not scared and I didn’t know who he was. I only cared about the chocolate and I ate it immediately,” he said.
A video recording of Bosnian Serb military commander Mladic in Srebrenica on July 12, 1995 and handing candies and chocolates to Bosniak children was broadcast around the world.
In the video footage, Mladic tells the Srebrenica residents that they will be transported to safety: “Don’t be afraid. Nobody will do anything to you,” he promises.
It was filmed at the start of a military operation, which would last for days and take the lives of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys and result in the expulsion of 40,000 women, children and elderly people from Srebrenica.
Alic remembers how Mladic asked what his name was and how old he was.
“I recall saying my name was Izudin and I was 12. I cannot tell you why I lied about my age. I guess I wanted to be older… I don’t know… I know he said things would be alright, which was not true,” he said.
Before the war, Alic and his family lived in the village of Prohici near Srebrenica, on the border with Serbia. After Serb soldiers attacked the village in 1993, his family fled to Srebrenica, where they stayed until July 1995.
After the Serb attack on Srebrenica, Alic went with his mother and siblings and grandparents to nearby Potocari, while his father, uncle and cousin fled through the woods to seek safety in the town of Tuzla, which was controlled by Bosniak-led forces.
“I was eight and when I try to recall it, I did not understand what was happening… There was chaos in Potocari, a lot of military, a lot of men,” said Alic.
Amid the chaos in Potocari, thousands of fleeing Bosniaks gathered, and this was when Alic went to fetch his water and met Mladic.
Alic spent the remainder of the war in a refugee centre in Tuzla and then returned to Prohici, where he lives today.
His father and cousins did not survive the genocide which Mladic stands accused of commanding.
“I don’t know where or how they were killed. I buried my father and uncle right after the war, they were found in Kamenica near Zvornik. My cousin was never found,” said Alic.
He said that he thinks about Mladic a lot these days, and wonders if the former Bosnian Serb military commander, who is now on trial at the Hague Tribunal, remembers him.
“I often wonder about this, when I see him in The Hague. I wonder if he knew all those men would be killed… My father and uncle, all of them…” he said.
Mladic accused of being responsible for genocide in Srebrenica and other wartime crimes. The verdict is expected in November.
“What do I feel for him? Nothing! I am only glad that he was arrested and that he is on trial,” Alic concluded.
“He should answer for all that he did in Srebrenica.”