Witnessing genocide in Bosnia burned into me, ex Army officer tells HMD debate

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Witnessing genocide in Bosnia burned into me, ex Army officer tells HMD debate

Bob Stewart, whose mother was an officer and visited the Belsen at the end of the Second World War, spoke of his horror at witnessing genocide

Bob Stewart MP
Bob Stewart MP

A former United Nations commander has described witnessing genocide in Bosnia, telling MPs: “It’s burned into me.”

Conservative MP Bob Stewart recalled one of the worst atrocities of the Balkan conflict in which more than 100 Muslims, including women and children, were murdered in a single day.

He discovered the massacre by Croat forces in the village of Ahmici in April 1993.

Speaking during a Commons debate on Holocaust Memorial Day, Mr Stewart said: “I was born four years after the genocide of the Holocaust ended, but I’ve been a witness to genocide.

“In ’92/’93 I was the British UN commander in Bosnia and the whole country was an example of genocide.”

Turning to Ahmici, the MP for Beckenham said: “I discovered a man and a boy had been shot down in their doorway and their bodies burnt, and the boy’s naked body had his fist raised up in the air. It was horrific.

“My soldiers told me to look round the back and I went into a cellar. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

“The first thing I got was, frankly, the sense of smell. Awful.”

He said his eyes focused on a pile of bodies, adding that he and his soldiers were left speechless by what they had seen.

Mr Stewart added: “A soldier, later, as he was shovelling up the remains of people, turned to me and said ‘Sir, this is Europe in 1993, not Europe in 1943.’

“We buried 104 people in a mass grave nearby. It’s affected me deeply. I may not look it but deep down I am deeply affected by the genocide I witnessed.”

MPs heard that Mr Stewart’s mother, an officer of the special operations executive, visited the Belsen Nazi concentration camp at the end of the Second World War.

He said she did not tell him about it until he was stationed nearby.

Mr Stewart told the chamber: “I said to her ‘Why, Mum, have you not told me about this?’, and she said ‘Robert, I was ashamed.’

“I said ‘Mum, why were you ashamed? You were in uniform, you were fighting the Nazis’, and she said ‘I was ashamed, Robert, because this genocide occurred in my generation.’

“Now, genocides have occurred since 1945. As I said, I was a witness to one.

“It’s burned into me and the purpose of this debate is to make sure we try to stop it happening again.”

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