SARAJEVO - Thousands of red chairs stood empty along Sarajevo’s main avenue on Friday as Bosnia commemorated the 20th anniversary of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II. People placed white roses on some of the chairs as a classical orchestra prepared to play a concert for the 11,541 empty seats, one for each civilian killed in the city in its siege during the 1992-95 war.  On one of the small chairs that symbolise the hundreds of children killed in the siege someone placed a teddy bear. Others had school books and toys. People stopped and gazed at the chairs set up along an 800 meter-stretch of Sarajevo’s central Marshall Tito Avenue, some of whom were unable to hold back their tears.

“The amount of empty chairs shows the horror that we lived through,” Hazima Hadzovic said.

“I just feel the need to come and honour the victims. I lost so many friends I cannot even remember all of their names now,” the 56-year-old told AFP

Sarajevo residents are asked to stop what they’re doing for an hour from 2:00 pm to mark the start of the conflict.

The ceremonies were taking place exactly 20 years since ethnic Serb snipers fired on a peace protest attended by thousands of Bosnians, shattering the last hopes for peace.

As the first civilian casualties of war fell, the European Union recognised Bosnia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia on April 6, 1992.

In the following three and a half years the country was torn apart and divided along ethnic lines.

Some 100,000 people were killed and half the population of 4.4 million fled their homes.

Many in Sarajevo live daily with the memories of the longest city siege in modern history. For 44 months Bosnia Serb troops shelled the town from the hills above and snipers shot pedestrians at random.

“I mostly recall the near continuous bombing, the snipers, the dead,” 64-year-old Fuad Novalija, a craftsman in Sarajevo’s old town, told AFP.

“The shells fell when we least expected them. People were killed as they queued for water or bread.”

While the city’s most symbolic buildings have all been restored in the years since the end of the war, Sarajevo still bears the traces of shells and bullets.

It was the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims after the fall of the UN “safe area” Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb troops that finally led to NATO intervention which forced Bosnian Serbs into retreat.

Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are both facing trial for genocide before the UN war crimes court in The Hague over Srebrenica. The other main protagonists of the war have all died or have been convicted of war crimes.

Five months after the Srebrenica massacre - the only episode of the Bosnian war to have been ruled genocide by a UN war crimes tribunal and the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice - the Western-imposed Dayton peace agreement ended the war.

It created a two-entity state composed of the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serbs’ Republika Srpska. While Dayton brought peace, it also cemented the ethnic divisions that still haunt the country today.

Bosnia’s two semi-autonomous statelets have their own political institutions, loosely connected through an almost powerless central government.

Craftsman Novalija said Bosnia has been stagnating politically since the end of the war as the economic situation deteriorates.

“We have peace now, but that is really the only progress,” he concluded bitterly.