Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bosnians See Families Excavated from Mass Grave

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bosnians See Families Excavated from Mass Grave

Article excerpt

SEJKOVACA, Bosnia-Herzegovina * Denisa Hegic pulled her scarf around her nose to guard against the stench, and drew back the plastic shroud. Shaking, she reached down to touch her mother's skull, and caressed it.

The last time she touched her mother she was bleeding on the floor of the family home, slain by Bosnian Serb soldiers storming their tiny village in northwestern Bosnia. On Wednesday, mother and daughter were reunited in a cavernous building used to house the remains of victims newly excavated from the mass grave in Tomasica, 125 miles northwest of Sarajevo.

"I found her body," she said.

Hegic's experience is being repeated this week by many survivors of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, as experts begin allowing families to view the remains meticulously pulled from the earth and identified through DNA analysis. Hundreds of families are expected to make the sad pilgrimage to see the dead.

A total of 430 victims were found in the Tomasica grave, a vast pit about 30 feet deep and covering 54,000 square feet. The pit contains victims of Bosnian Serb military units who killed Muslim Bosniaks and Roman Catholic Croats in hopes of creating an ethnically pure region.

Many believe more people were originally buried there. Diaries confiscated from former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic suggest that some of the bodies in the Tomasica pit were dug up and moved, which now complicates efforts to identify the dead.

But some progress has been made. Family members coming to view remains are also offering statements to local prosecutors to assist in efforts to prosecute Mladic, who is being tried on war crimes charges at the U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands. The war crimes tribunal has sentenced 16 Bosnian Serbs to a total of 230 years for the crimes committed in the closest town, Prijedor, but no one has yet been held responsible for the killings in Hegic's village. …

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