Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Thousands still missing as Bosnia unearths the past

MASS GRAVES Muslim families are returning to their houses, where forensic experts are still exhuming the remains of victims of the ethnic-cleansing campaign


A forensic expert examines the remains of human bodies at a mass grave in the village of Kevljani near the northwestern Bosnian town of Banja Luka on Friday. So far some 415 bodies of Muslim inmates of the notorious Omarska and Keraterm detention camps have been exhumed from this grave.


Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje would still be obscure corners of Bosnia, were it not for the daily confirmation of terrifying crimes committed there by Serbs during a 1992 to 1995 war here.

In Kevljani, a remote village in the middle of the triangle of horrors in northwestern Bos-nia, forensic experts have since late August been exhuming remains of Muslim civilians from a mass grave.

During the war the victims were inmates of detention camps in those locations, killed by Bosnian Serbs.

"So far we have exhumed 415 bodies," said Esad Bajramovic of the Muslim-led Commission for Missing People.

Since the end of Bosnia's war, some 18,000 bodies, mostly Muslims, have been exhumed from over 300 mass graves throughout the Balkan country. Some 16,000 people, including 3,200 from the Prijedor area, where Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje are located, are still listed as missing.

Bosnia's war claimed more than 200,000 lives and left 2.2 million refugees, more than half the country's population.

To get to Kevljani, one has to leave the main road linking Banja Luka, administrative center of Bosnia's Serb-run half, and Prijedor, and take a narrow, bumpy road. Surrounded by scrub and overgrown with weeds, with houses destroyed during the conflict, the road crosses a zone of extreme poverty that is home to several Muslim families who have returned to their pre-war houses.

Yet the mosque has been rebuilt. The green Muslim flag with white crescent and star flies on a recently built minaret. The old minaret on the ground in front of the mosque, probably destroyed during the war, is testimony to merciless inter-ethnic hatred.

In Kevljani, near the 17m long and 6m wide grave, regional prosecutor Indira Cuk monitors the work of exhumation.

"It is a so-called secondary grave, meaning that it would be difficult to identify the remains," she said.

This means the bodies were initially buried somewhere else, then moved to the Kevljani mass grave to cover up the crime. The exhumation is to continue for at least two more weeks, with dozens more bodies expected to be found.

At the bottom of the 6m deep grave, bones and remains of clothes are mixed with mud. Small plates bearing numbers and letters mark the sites chosen for digging. Nearby is an excavator and some 30 white plastic bags carrying numbers.

The bags are, so to speak, the final resting place of numerous inmates of Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje camps.

Azim, a Muslim in his forties, lives just some 500m from the Kevljani mass grave with his wife and two young sons.

"I would leave at once," he said. "It's horrible to live near the mass grave. But we are too poor and we have no other place to go."

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