Bosnia digging up mass grave hidden for 20 years by Serb silence

Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:32pm EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

TOMASICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Forensics experts are excavating what may be the largest mass grave of ethnic cleansing victims in Bosnia, a site whose existence was known for years but exact location covered up by a Serb wall of silence, the state's missing persons office said.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague has sentenced 16 Bosnian Serbs to a total of 230 years in prison for atrocities in the Prijedor area of northwest Bosnia where the Tomasica site is situated but not all mass graves have been found in the area.

Bosnia's Institute for Missing Persons had known for years about the Tomasica tomb but the exact venue and details of the victims were known only to local Serb witnesses who had remained mum since the end of the 1992-95 war.

"We conducted the investigation for two years and finally found people who were willing to talk," said Mujo Begic, the forensic team supervisor. Some witnesses were former separatist Bosnian Serb fighters who could no longer keep the secret.

At Tomasica, the white-garbed forensic experts are recovering bodies of Bosnian Muslims, or Bosniaks, and Croats killed by separatist Serbs in one of the worst ethnic cleansing campaigns aimed at driving out non-Serbs in the country's war.

On Tuesday, the remains of 18 people were unearthed from the grave, which spreads across 3,000 square meters in uninhabited green hills. All the victims, men, women and children, were shot dead, forensics workers said. Many were wrapped in blankets.

Begic said his team expected to find the remains of 17 children, the youngest an 18-month-old baby, from the Bacic family killed along with their mother, grandfather and uncle.

As bulldozers removed layer after layer of thick clay, the sickening, all-pervading stench of decomposing bodies rose.   Continued...

Forensic experts, members of the International Commision of Missing Persons (ICMP) and Bosnian workers search for human remains at a mass grave in the village of Tomasica near Prijedor, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic