NICOLA Sturgeon said she was “deeply moved” after visiting Srebrenica yesterday to pay her respects to more than 8,000 people killed in the 1995 genocide in Bosnia.

The First Minister and a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Dr Lorna Hood, also meet survivors and relatives of some the victims.

During the July 1995 massacre, thousands of people, mainly Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in the space of a few days, and their bodies buried in mass graves. It described by the United Nations as “the worst crime in Europe since the Second World War”.

The massacre took place after Bosnian Serb forces took over the town in during the Bosnian War.

After meeting some of the loved ones of those who perished and laying a wreath in memory of the dead, Sturgeon tweeted: “Deeply moved to visit the memorial to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide at Potocari. We must work to learn the lessons. @RemSrebScot.”

The First Minister added: “Although our two countries are separated by geography, I have been struck by the warmth with which many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina speak of Scotland.”

Scotland has strong links with the Balkan country. During the war, Edinburgh Direct Aid sent convoys delivering supplies and medicines to those cut off.

Christine Witcutt and her husband Alan were two of the first to volunteer for the charity. Tragically, Christine was killed on “snipers alley” in Sarajevo in 1993 shortly after the initiative began.

Her family set up an appeal and today her humanitarian work lives on in the Christine Witcutt Day Care Centre, established in September 2001 to provide support to families with disabled children in Sarajevo. It was among the facilities visited by the First Minister during her trip.

In the aftermath of the war, Scottish scientists worked in Srebrenica helping to identify the remains in mass graves and later gave evidence at The Hague during the prosecution of war crimes.

Scots scientist Adam Boys was instrumental in setting up the International Commission on Missing Persons, which has used DNA identification technology to reunite thousands of families with the remains of their loved ones.

Surgeon promised to visit Srebrenica after attending an event held in Edinburgh in July last year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide.

Ahead of the trip, she said: “It will be a privilege to visit Srebrenica and learn first-hand how survivors and bereaved family members of the genocide have fought to preserve the memory of their loved ones.

“More than 8,000 men and boys had their lives taken from them, and it is vital that what happened in Srebrenica, in one of Europe’s darkest chapters, is never forgotten.

“Scotland has strong links with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina – and during my visit I will be keen not just to pay tribute on behalf of the people of Scotland to those who were murdered in the genocide, but also to learn how we can use the memory of what happened at Srebrenica to help tackle intolerance and hatred wherever it occurs in the world.

“Brave people like Christine Witcutt, who put herself in the front line to help those so desperately in need during the conflict, represented a beacon of hope and compassion amid appalling suffering– and Christine’s humanitarian work lives on in the centre created in her memory. In a world where conflict is sadly still very much a reality, we must never forget the lessons of the past as we try to build a more peaceful, tolerant future.”

Sturgeon also met the chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denis Zvizdic, Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak and religious leaders, to hear about their efforts to overcome the legacy of war. Dr Hood, who chairs the charity Remembering Srebrenica

(Scotland) said: “The terrorist events of the last few months and years around the world should make us even more aware that hatred and discrimination, if left unchallenged and unchecked, can lead to terrible evil even among those who had previously been neighbours and friends. Many bereaved are still waiting for justice.”

Martin Hannan: Slaughter of thousands was ‘Europe’s worst atrocity since WW2’ 

IT was described by the United Nations secretary general at the time, Kofi Annan, as the worst crime on European soil since World War II, and few would disagree with that assessment of the Srebrenica massacre.

Over 11 days in July 1995, more than 8,000 men and boys of Bosnian Muslim extraction were systematically murdered by Bosnian Serb troops and paramilitaries in what was nothing more or less than genocide.

The enforced removal of tens of thousands of women, children and elderly people from Srebrenica and its surrounding villages proved what the Bosnian Serb army was really up to – the ethnic cleansing of an area that was strategically vital to their concept of a self-proclaimed republic of Serbs in Bosnia, now known as the Republika Srpska.

There were many complex reasons behind the war that included the massacre, as the break-up of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was never going to be easily accomplished.

Over decades, the Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito had deliberately used the divide-and-rule tactics of moving people of different ethnicity around Yugoslavia so that no one single minority could threaten the federation he had founded in 1943.

After his death in 1980, internal conflict within Yugoslavia became inevitable. A little more than a decade later, and Tito’s Yugoslavia with his motto of “unity and brotherhood” had all but ceased to exist as the state began to break up into smaller nations.

Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on June 25, 1991. In that same year, the combined provinces of Bosnia and

Herzegovina – we’ll call it Bosnia for short – seceded from Yugoslavia, and formed a new state that was constituted mainly of three ethnic groups.

The largest grouping numerically was the Bosniaks, known to the West as the Bosnian Muslims. The next largest group were the Bosnian Serbs, mainly Orthodox Christians and communists, with the Bosnian Croatians third.

Led by Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs formed their own autonomous area, but to the cost of many innocent civilians, including those at Srebrenica, their claimed territory included towns and villages that were Bosniak and Muslim.

War broke out and there were killings and atrocities on both sides. The United Nations stepped in, but proved useless in keeping the Bosnian Muslims and Serbs apart.

It was the latter which perpetrated the war’s worst atrocity at Srebrenica.

Under General Ratko Mladic, forces of the Bosnian Serb army marched into Srebrenica and the surrounding area, despite it being a UN “safe area” under the protection of mainly Dutch forces.

Hopelessly outnumbered, the UN troops could do nothing as Mladic’s mix of soldiers and paramilitaries – some from the notorious Scorpions group – rounded up men and boys and expelled their families.

The shooting began and did not stop until 8,400 were dead. Some 7,000 have subsequently been identified – some by DNA as their bodies had decomposed.

Mladic, known as the Butcher of Bosnia, and Karadzic were eventually brought before the International Tribunal at the Hague. Earlier this year, each was sentenced to 40 years in prison.