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Pawlenty visits massacre site
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The governor and first lady Mary Pawlenty walked through a cemetery that holds about 700 graves with victims of the mass killing. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is wrapping up a two-day visit with Minnesota National Guard troops serving as peacekeepers in that country. The governor's trip was meant in part to boost the morale of soldiers away from home during the holidays, and news Saddam Hussein's capture made his job even easier.

Srebrenica, Bosnia — Bosnia is seven hours ahead of Minnesota, so it was the middle of the day when word got out about the arrest of Saddam Hussein. Pawlenty and Guard members sat down in a mess hall to watch live coverage of the news. And during his town hall meetings with soldiers across the country, Pawlenty has been eager to celebrate the news.

Although there are important differences between Iraq and Bosnia, there are similarities, too. A number of lead figures in the Bosnian civil war have been accused -- in some cases indicted -- for war crimes during that conflict. Even today, soldiers on patrol are asked to watch out for suspected war criminals and report any sightings.

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Image Mary Pawlenty

Gov. Pawlenty and first lady Mary Pawlenty wrapped up their visit with a trip to Srebrenica, the site of a 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Serbian nationalists. Pawlenty said the rows of graves were a bit overwhelming.

"It's dramatic. And especially on a day like today where it's so gray and dark and overcast. It's just a very, very powerful image of tragedy. And I can't describe it other than just a sense of sadness and tragedy," Pawlenty said.

Roughly 8,000 men and boys -- some not even in their teens -- were rounded up outside of Srebrenica and executed in about the span of a week in July 1995. It was the worst European mass killing since the Nazi Holocaust.

Mary Pawlenty was visibly upset by the thought of the massacre. She has taken a strong interest in the civil war and the Minnesota Guard's role in enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords the ended the bloodshed.

Part of the itinerary included a visit to an orphange that served displaced children during the conflict. After the visit to the Srebrenica memorial, the first lady was incredulous that such a thing could happen.

"Under what possible sick, evil mind can you take 12-year-old boys in the volume that they did and kill them and attempt to hide their bodies? I can't fathom that," Mrs. Pawlenty said.

The first lady, who is also a Dakota County judge, seemed to take some comfort in the meticulous investigative work that's attempting to bring those responsible to justice.

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