VISEGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian Serb authorities postponed the planned destruction of a house where Serb soldiers burnt alive 53 Bosniak civilians at the start of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Workers sent by the municipality turned around and left Tuesday when they saw victims' families gathered outside the house in the eastern town of Visegrad.
Bosniaks claim that the plan developed by the Serb authorities to destroy the house in order to make space for the widening of a nearby road was just an excuse to destroy a crime scene and erase a memory of it. Families of the burned victims have reconstructed the house in Pionirska Street and visit it often to lay flowers, cry and pray.
"This house is sacred to us," said Bakira Hasecic, a victim of the Serb assault on Visegrad, who now heads Bosnia's association of women raped during the war. "We will not allow it to be demolished."
The crime in Visegrad was among the first carried out by Serb forces on the local Muslim Bosniak population during the war.
The U.N. war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands, sentenced several Bosnian Serbs to decades in prison for the Visegrad killing spree that saw scores of Bosniaks burnt alive in two houses.
When sentencing ringleader Milan Lukic to life imprisonment in 2009, judge Patrick Robinson said the burning of at least 119 civilians to death "exemplified the worst acts of inhumanity that one person may inflict on others."
Lukic's group barricaded the victims — including a two days-old baby — in one room of the house and set it on fire. Then they fired automatic weapons at those who tried to escape through the windows.
A few days later they repeated the crime in another house, killing nearly 70.
By the end of the war, after 3,000 were killed and others expelled, no residents of Visegrad were Muslim Bosniaks. Before, they accounted for two-thirds of the 25,000 population.
A small number have since returned to the town which is now in territory administered by Bosnian Serb authorities. Following the war, the country was divided into a Bosnian Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation.
The house under threat is surrounded by other private homes along a new, narrow road. According to Bosniak returnee Suljo Fejzic, Serb authorities singled it out for a road.
"So, it is obvious what the intention is here," Fejzic said.
International officials in Bosnia issued a statement urging the Visegrad mayor to give up on the destruction of the house.
"If the planned enforcement and demolition on 24 December goes ahead, it could be seen as a very negative step recalling some of the most difficult days of this country's history," according to a joint statement by Bosnia's international administrator Valentin Inzko and the head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia, Nina Suomalainen.