Taking sides in deadly game of blame

Missing in Bosnia: Emma Daly continues her examination of the legacy of war and mass killings
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The Independent Online
Kravica - Spattered blood and brain still stain the walls of a warehouse in Kravica, where it is alleged that hundreds of Muslims were executed after the fall of Srebrenica last July. The place is riddled with bullet-holes and a wall has been torn down, allegedly so that a bulldozer could drive in and haul out the bodies for burial in two mass graves a few miles up the road at Glogova.

Outside, a few men sit around beside a truck. The building is being used once again, the labels placed by war crimes investigators trampled into the earthen floor. Were the men here during the executions, we asked, knowing that Kravica first came to prominence in 1993 as the site of an alleged massacre of more than 100 Serbs by Srebrenica Muslims

The question reaped the expected response. "They killed my brother!" one man cried, asking why Westerners always focused on Muslims and never on Serb victims. "I'm still in mourning for my brother," he added.

There is no longer doubt that thousands of Muslims, perhaps as many as 8,000, were executed and buried in an act of vengeance organised by General Ratko Mladic, the Serbs' military commander indicted by the tribunal for genocide.

The physical evidence is all too apparent; the human bones emerging from the mud of Glogova, for example. Yet Serbs in the area, who must have known what was taking place, respond to questions by raising an earlier grievance to justify the latest atrocity.

A Serb official now installed in Srebrenica said first that the massacres never happened; then, that as he was not involved in the killings, they did not interest him; lastly, that the fate of 2,000 or 3,000 Muslims paled beside the fate of Serbs killed in Croatia.

But if the people of Bosnia, including its Serbs, are to have a future, the questions of truth and justice must be addressed. Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the United Nations and a hate figure to the Serbs, said it best. "Reconciliation can only come when collective guilt is expunged and individual guilt is assigned," she said. "I do not believe that whole nations are responsible for horrible acts."

Nor that horrible acts are committed only by one side; although in the case of Bosnia, it is fair to say that the sins of the government side, which include the killing of civilians and prisoners of war, are outstripped by the evil of the Serb leadership's quite openly stated policy of expulsion and extermination of non-Serbs.

But, although murder is murder, whether one is killed, or 100 or 100,000, it is clear that it would be impossible to prosecute everyone who committed a war crime. Investigators for the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague are said to have collected 40,000 testimonies of death from survivors and witnesses of the many atrocities committed during the wars in Bosnia.

So the tribunal, which is not altogether popular with Western governments who would prefer to sweep morality aside in favour of political expedience, has instead focused on the worst examples and those that can be tied explicitly to political and military leaders.

Indictments have been handed down for the concentration camps in northern and eastern Bosnia housing thousands of non-Serbs expelled from their homes; the alleged killing by Serbs of up to 8,000 Muslims fleeing the fallen enclave of Srebrenica; the massacres of Muslim villagers by Croats in the war in central Bosnia and the murders of Serb prisoners at a Muslim camp. More charges are expected, and the balance so far, 47 Serbs indicted, eight Croats and three Muslims, may swing.

It is an article of faith among Serbs that the tribunal is "biased", and is part of a conspiracy against the Serbs. But international observers attended the recent exhumation of a grave containing the bodies of 188 Serbs allegedly massacred by Croats in Mrkonjic Grad, an event reported by the Independent and other Western media.

As the process of mapping war crimes and searching for those missing in the war unfolds, the local authorities will have to start to co-operate, because almost by definition, most of the mass graves are situated on territory which is held by "the enemy".

Without an accounting of some sort, there will never be peace. In the town of Foca, in eastern Bosnia, dozens of charred and gutted buildings stand in mute testimony to the vicious expulsion of the Muslims who until recently formed the majority population.

The atmosphere is uncomfortable and eerie, and the Serbs who have remained in the town rarely discuss the fate of their former neighbours.

"It makes me so angry," a Bosnian Serb official said privately in Foca. "Everyone behaves as if it's a big secret. We all know what happened here and we will never have a real country until we stand up and say, 'Yes, we did this, it was war'."

But that has never happened. Instead, Foca has been re- christened Srbinje - the Serbs' place. Perhaps the Serbs of Srebrenica will follow suit. What is certain is that without some resolution, the word "Srebrenica" will be cited in 100 years to justify some future blood- bath.