Muslims hope graves will solve macabre mystery

Emma Daly went back to Kljuc with men whose families fell into Serb hands

For the people of Bihac, under siege for more than three years, the fall of nearby Serb-held towns offers a chance to stock up for winter, harvest hay and ripening pumpkins, round up cattle, sort through abandoned houses, and pick up a sofa. For many it brings the right of return to the houses - or the ruins of them - that they were forced to abandon in 1992.

The litter of war lines the road from Bihac to Kljuc: a few bodies wrapped in blankets, cars shot to pieces, the hulks of gutted tanks and everywhere blankets and odd shoes - the debris of Serb civilians fleeing east.

The west-bound traffic consists of overloaded haycarts and tractors towing trailers filled with booty: an old woman sitting on a plundered sofa, a man herding formerly Serb cattle, soldiers driving trucks with cyrillic number-plates. But perhaps the most important gain will be the truth about what happened to those left behind.

Fudo Kestic, a soldier on duty amid the ruins of what had been the Muslim village of Krasulje, told a harrowing tale of leaving his home in Kljuc amid the smoke of houses put to the torch and the cries of women and children left behind, including his mother and 17-year-old sister.

"I could hear a child crying: `Mama, Mama ...' he said. Mr Kestic, 24, said he was one of 149 Bosnian men who escaped from Kljuc, when it fell to the Bosnian Serb army in May 1992, by trading 62 Serb hostages. When the fighters withdrew they left the others behind, hoping they would be respected as civilians.

"We fled up Mount Grmec and all we could hear were the women and children crying and the songs of the drunken Chetniks," Mr Kestic said. "All we could see were our houses burning." He last heard of his family as prisoners in the Serb camp at Manjaca. He does not expect to see them again: "I heard what the Serbs were doing, so I lost hope."

Their fate may be uncovered in the wake of the Bosnian offensive, which has yielded thousands of documents abandoned by Serb forces as well as what may be many mass graves, including one close to Mr Kestic's position. We were not allowed to visit it, as it was too close to the front line, but down the road towards Kljuc, we visited another site in a wood.

The dark mud had been turned over to expose a single shoe and a clothed skeleton. The government is expected to excavate the area, as well as a small field in the village of Prhovo which we were also barred from visiting.

A soldier led journalists to the site in Prhovo, weeping as he described witnessing the massacre of his family. "I watched from the woods as they bulldozed the corpses into the ground in front of our house," said Senad Medanovic, 25. The only thing he has left to remind him of his family is a small medallion with two hearts and the name of his sister, Enesa. The family of her boyfriend saved it for him.

Skulls and other remains have been found as local officials begin inspecting five possible mass graves around Kljuc.

Light digging has begun at the one site and a Bosnian government commission is working out a plan to investigate the entire area. Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman in Zagreb, said the local authorities told UN military observers that there were 40 possible mass grave sites in the area. "When we fled it was dusk, everything smelt of smoke," Mr Kestic said. "When we came back, all we could think about was to keep marching forward. We knew the people we were fighting were those who had torched our villages. At each village we reached, everyone had a picture in his mind of what had happened."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor