Mass graves under investigation

Bosnia killing fields: UN war crimes tribunal chief orders inspection of sites under the protection of Nato peace forces

Gornji Vakuf

With more reports emerging of mass graves in Serb-occupied parts of Bosnia, Justice Richard Goldstone, head of the United Nations tribunal prosecuting war crimes, said his investigators would begin examining the sites soon under the protection of Nato peace-keepers.

The US assistant secretary for human rights, John Shattuck, who returned to Sarajevo yesterday after touring sites identified as graves containing thousands of bodies, was also expected to urge the peace-implementation force, I-For, to do all in its power to aid the investigation. But Mr Shattuck said his new priority was the fate of hundreds of prisoners of war still held by all three sides in the conflict, despite a deadline of last Friday for their release under the Dayton peace plan. "I will be

The main grave sites are in Serb territory but some had been identified in areas held by Muslims and Croats for most of the war, British sources said. After Judge Goldstone met Admiral Leighton Smith, the I-For commander, yesterday they said the peace-keepers would help provide area security "for tribunal teams carrying out investigations and activities at mass grave sites". Significantly, the word "alleged" has been absent from recent statements.

Admiral Smith remains wary of promising too much, however. An official from the war crimes tribunal will be attached to I-For, but further "public discussion" of mass graves is to be avoided, demonstrating the peace-keepers' sensitivity over the issue. At the weekend he confirmed that Nato aircraft would photograph two alleged grave sites but yesterday I-For declined to identify them.

On Sunday a spokesman for Nato's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), the bulk of the implementation force, said it was possible troops might surround grave sites this week but Admiral Smith then said "Nato is not, repeat not, going to guard specific grave sites".

The problem is mainly one of resources but also stems from trying to avoid being dragged into tasks outside I-For's mandate. Last week British divers were sent into a flooded mine near Ljubija, south-west of Prijedor, but found nothing and were withdrawn after altercations among ARRC commanders.

Diverting aircraft to take photographs is much easier, however, and Admiral Smith said I-For aircraft would watch for any signs that evidence was being removed before tribunal teams can start. The main sites are Ljubija, where Croatian sources have said up to 8,000 bodies may have been dumped, and Glogova, near Srebrenica, visited by Mr Shattuck at the weekend. He said up to 7,000 people might be buried there.

As more I-For troops pour in, the resources problem will diminish. British I-For sources said that if the withdrawal of Bosnian Croat troops from the 400-square mile area they have to evacuate by 3 February goes according to plan, it will release troops to guard and assist tribunal investigators.