Remains of dozens found in Bosnia's largest grave

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The Independent Online

Bulldozers unearthed the remains of dozens of people yesterday as investigators searched for about 700 missing Muslims in what is believed to be the biggest mass grave in Bosnia.

Bulldozers unearthed the remains of dozens of people yesterday as investigators searched for about 700 missing Muslims in what is believed to be the biggest mass grave in Bosnia.

The bones, dug up from an area the size of a tennis court, are thought to include some of the 7,000 men and boys who were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica eight years ago - Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.

"We believe the grave contains several hundred bodies of 1995 Srebrenica massacre victims and those of Zvornik civilians killed at the start of the war," said Murat Hurtic, a member of the Bosnian Commission for Missing People. "It could be the largest mass grave ever found in Bosnia."

The grave was found at Crni Vrh, near the town of Zvornik, north of Srebrenica, and is believed to be a site to which the bodies were moved from their original burial places near Srebrenica. Bosnian Serbs reburied victims to hide evidence of massacres from the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which is prosecuting those accused of atrocities in Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Experts say the excavations will take about two months, and expect the identification of the victims to be a slow and complicated process, probably requiring DNA analysis.

In July 1995, Srebrenica, which was protected by lightly armed Dutch peace-keepers, was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces who separated Muslim women from the men and boys - thousands of whom were later executed.

The mass grave was found in a mountainous area near the border with Serbia. It is close to the former front line and was surrounded by minefields. Soil samples from the site indicate the grave may also contain victims from a separate massacre at the start of the Bosnian war, which began in 1992.

Experts say they were tipped off about the site by a person who witnessed the re-burial of victims, but its whereabouts were kept secret for more than a year to prevent any tampering with evidence.

So far, the remains of more than 6,000 Muslim men and boys have been found in 60 mass graves in the area. The biggest grave contained 500 bodies. Kathryne Bomberger, from the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), in Sarajevo, said: "We're working on trying to find evidence of identification of these remains, so that we can return the mortal remains to the families."

Drazen Erdemovic, the first Bosnian Serb army member to admit taking part in the Srebrenica massacre, is due to testify on the crime later this week. He is expected to be a witness for the prosecution in the tribunal's case against the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is accused of genocide in Bosnia. The trial of Mr Milosevic was halted again yesterday because of the defendant's poor health.

The ICMP said earlier this month that 1,000 bodies of Srebrenica victims had been identified through DNA matches.

Two men accused of responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader, and Ratko Mladic, his army commander, remain at large.

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