Revised death toll for Bosnian war
by Nedim Dervišbegovic
The death toll from Bosnia's 1992-95 war, widely estimated at being at least 200,000, was less than 150,000, a leading war crimes researcher said yesterday. In an interview with Reuters, Mirsad Tokača said his team had completed 80 per cent of the work to establish the exact number of Muslims, Serbs and Croats killed in the conflict, which became known as a war of ‘ethnic cleansing’. About 70 per cent of victims were Muslims, Tokača said, rebutting Internet rumours that his Investigation and Documentation Centre would show the toll was about the same on all three sides. ‘We can now say with almost absolute certainty that the number is going to be more than 100,000 but definitely less than 150,000,’ Tokača, an ethnic Muslim, said by telephone.
Asked about reports circulating on Serbian weblogs that his figures disproved the accepted fact that Muslims were by far the main victims, he said he was unaware of such a story but could deny it completely. ‘Based on initial results, although I am reluctant to go into this at this point, Serbs make up some 25 percent, Croats 5 percent and Muslims the rest,’ he said.
A team of six professional researchers and 20 volunteers, funded by the Norwegian government, has created a computerised database with 250,000 names of people listed in a multitude of sources as civilians or soldiers killed in the war. ‘Many people were listed as killed in two, three or even four different sources which until now would be simply added up without checking if some names were being duplicated,’ Tokača said. For example, a Muslim refugee from an eastern Bosnian village would be listed as a refugee by various civilian authorities and police, and as a soldier by the military he had joined in the meantime.
Prosecuting war criminals and tracing the fate of more than 15,000 people still missing are seen as indispensable tasks for the process of reconciliation in Bosnia, as it struggles to bridge ethnic divisions and integrate into Europe. It was ‘part of the process of facing up to the past’, Tokača said. ‘This is for the victims and without this you can't move forward.’
The research included checking newspaper reports, civilian, medical, police and military files as well as visiting graves, where it is possible, and than comparing data. ‘After cross-referencing, we have whittled down the number of those killed to about 80,000 right now,’ Tokača said, adding that he expected the project, which has been under way for a year, to be completed in about two months. ‘We will soon move to the final phase involving only professionals who will produce an analysis of what we have found,’ he said.
Tokača, who has investigated and documented war crimes for the past 12 years and has cooperated with UN war crimes investigators, said the work of his team is all the more credible because it involves Bosnians from all sides. The team has used the Red Cross database of missing people as one of the sources for its research and has also cooperated with United Nations Hague tribunal for war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia, to whom it will forward its findings. The project, however, has drawn no attention from the Bosnian authorities, Tokača said. ‘They are simply not interested’.
Reuters, AlertNet, 10 December 2004. A lengthy and detailed interview with Mirsad Tokača by Mensur † amo for Radio Free Europe was posted on the Bosnian Institute website on 10 March 2005, see www.bosnia.org.uk