Judge Richard Goldstone, head of the International War Crimes tribunal on former Yugoslavia, is due to visit Bosnia this month, following reports of the existence of a huge mass grave in a mine in the north-west.
His arrival may help to reveal the scale of war crimes in Bosnia, which is still shrouded in mystery. Nato has said it will not intervene. "Investigating mass graves is not part of my job. Establishing an environment in which others can do their job is part of my job," Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of Nato's peace implementation force (I-For), said yesterday.
"Nato is not mandated to go into an area where there may or may not be graves", said Colonel James Ellery, director of public information for I-For. "When the relevant authorities - the war crimes tribunal - decide the time is right to go in, they will do that. If they need assistance from I-For to get there, they will request it." Nato said it had not received requests from the war crimes tribunal, or other organisations, to escort investigators.
The UN, which controls an international civilian police force, may conduct preliminary investigations into allegations of mass graves, an official said, but would go no further. Antonio Pedauye, the UN co-ordinator, said the exhumation of graves would require forensic expertise available only to the tribunal.
"I would separate [human rights] from mass graves, serious violations of international law under the Geneva convention - that is up to the tribunal and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]," he said."The UN is here to act on violations of human rights now and in the future."
One Red Cross spokesman, Pierre Gauthier, disclaimed any ICRC responsibility for the investigation of mass graves. "We have not the mandate to dig up mass graves, we have not the know-how and we have not the enforcement," he said.
Reporters visited the open-cast mine at Ljubija without hindrance from Serb soldiers but found little to confirm allegations. Although British Nato troops responsible for the area where the alleged mass grave may be have been passing information to the representative of the war crimes tribunal, they had received no request for help yesterday, Col Ellery said.
"We just don't have the manpower", said Col Ellery. "The manpower is sufficient for the allocated tasks." These include supervising the withdrawal of the former warring sides from a "zone of separation" either side of the boundary between the two "entities" in Bosnia.
Given the scale of "ethnic cleansing" in the area, many of the allegations are probably true. But proof will only come when the tribunal experts come in and dig. The same is true for three alleged mass graves near Srebrenica, the Muslim enclave that fell to Serb forces in July. More than 2,000 people from Srebrenica are still missing.