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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sarajevo announced plans on Monday to open a museum of its brutal siege by Bosnian Serb forces, saying the approaching trial of their commander Ratko Mladic made it all the more important to display the evidence.
The museum will open on the siege's 20th anniversary next year and organizers said the timing of the announcement, four days after Mladic's capture in Serbia after nearly 16 years evading war crimes charges, was coincidental but fortuitous.
"Now that Mladic is arrested and we see so many efforts to rewrite history, we see how important these testimonies are," said Suada Kapic, who began collecting documents early in Bosnia's 1992-5 war and is the project's creative force.
She was referring to allegations by Mladic's supporters and family that the siege, which lasted 43 months and killed more than 11,000 people, was a legitimate military operation.
In the early 1990s, the Bosnian capital became a symbol of suffering of its citizens, who remained stuck in the city for 3-1/2-years under daily shelling by heavy artillery and snipers from nearby hills, without water, power and food.
The terror was masterminded by Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Mladic. The latter was seen by Sarajevans as a ruthless commander who did not care about civilians, unless they were ethnic Serbs.
"Shoot over Velusici, there are not many Serbs there," Mladic's ordered during a heavy bombardment of Sarajevo in May 1992 in a communique intercepted by Bosnian security agents and replayed many times in Bosnia since.
Mladic was indicted in 1995 by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide during the Bosnian war, including the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
He is expected to be extradited there within days.
"With Mladic's arrest, it seems as one chapter has been closed and a new, different chapter is opening that is very important for future generations," said Dino Mustafic, the director of the museum project.
Mustafic said the announcement was made on Monday because he had just signed an agreement with the city mayor agreeing a location for the museum, to be named "The Survival House."
"We are so fortunate to have all those documents," said Kapic, the director of the Fama production agency which has assembled an extensive collection that will go into it.
The collection includes an encyclopedia on the siege, a map illustrating the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, a chronology of its dissolution and 1,400 filmed accounts of witnesses. A website will also give a virtual tour of the besieged city.
The museum will be housed in a modern building consisting of 130 thematic containers, where classes will be held for interested groups.
An interactive map of the siege will show how people coped with shortages of every kind. It will also show wartime parties and weddings, the rare moments of joy.
"When you enter it, it will be like getting into the siege and going through it until it's lifted," Mustafic said.