Author: Milica Jovanovic
Uploaded: Wednesday, 18 December, 2013
Hundreds of bodies have already been removed from what is already being described as 'the biggest mass grave in post-war Europe', near Prijedor.
A mass grave which is already being described as the biggest in post-war Europe was discovered at the beginning of September 2013, more than twenty years after the crimes were committed, thanks to information supplied by two local Serbs who, by their own admission, had participated in disposing of the victims’ bodies. ‘The man simply came and showed us where the mass grave was. Since it was raining, we gave him a raincoat’, says one of the investigators working on the exhumation of bodies from a disused mine in Tomašica, near Prijedor. Sheltered from the rain, the former paramilitary said that he felt ‘somewhat relieved’.
The locality covers over 3,000 square metres, but forensic scientists believe that the investigation will soon expand outside the marked perimeter. New bodies are being exhumed almost every day. They are being temporarily stored in the Šejkovaca sports hall near Sanski Most, on the other side of the entity border, where personal items found at the locality are also collected: watches, documents, photos, anything that was left after the bodies had been looted.
The grave was covered by several-metre-high artificial mounds, under which another layer of ‘soil’ was discovered, consisting of piled-up human remains. The first bodies were found at a depth of seven metres. Due to the specific soil content, the natural process of decomposition was significantly delayed. According to reports, since the grave was unearthed the stench of death has been spreading throughout the entire area.
The stench of crime has also been sensed in the nearby mining settlement for two decades. The media are now reporting that the local population secretly appealed to the authorities on several occasions, asking for the mass grave to be moved, due to the unbearable stench from the bodies, which reached the settlement also through underground channels.
In a report on the exhumation of Tomašica, a Swedish TV station broadcast inserts from a report from 1996, which included the statements of inhabitants, who, under condition of anonymity, testified about the daily transport of bodies into Tomašica.
Surviving prisoners from Omarska, another mine in the Prijedor area which was converted into a prison camp, occasionally spoke about a lost mass grave in the chain of crimes committed in Prijedor. While confined, they retold among themselves horrid stories about piles of bodies of men, women and children. Forensic scientists are now confirming this for the very first time: ‘People were taken from the camps in Trnopolje and Omarska, and forced to unload bodies from trucks and toss them into the grave. After finishing their tasks, they were shot on the spot.’
So far, 470 bodies have been exhumed from the mine, the prosecutor in the trial of Ratko Mladic before the Hague Tribunal announced last Wednesday. The results of ten preliminary identifications have shown that the deaths of the victims are connected with existing criminal charges. Earlier, the Hague Tribunal prosecutor confirmed that the findings from Tomašica will be included in the cases against Mladic and Karadžic, who are already standing trial for crimes of ethnic cleansing in the municipality of Prijedor which, in addition to numerous individual crimes described in the indictment, point to a campaign over years to exterminate non-Serb population throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the beginning, it was expected that the exhumation would last for several weeks only, like those that had already been carried out in the area of this mining settlement. Namely, in 2004 the bodies of 26 victims were discovered, and two years later another ten victims were found. Hundreds of bodies are now attracting many families who have been searching for decades for their lost loved ones, from the Prijedor villages of Rizvanovici, Carakovo, Sredice, Bišcani, the city centre itself, and from the Keraterm and Omarska camps. Around a thousand more people are still missing, and it is still unknown where their bodies have been buried. They include 17 children and 15 women from the village of Zecovo. The work of one of the three excavators which are being used to remove layers of soil at the Tomašica site has been paid by associations of the families of the missing.
According to preliminary findings, during a three-month period the abandoned iron mine was used as a concentration centre to store the bodies of victims of savage crimes committed in the summer of 1992. The bodies were unloaded from trucks, and many of them were later moved to secondary locations. A note from Mladic’s war journal about the Tomašica site, dated 27 May 1993, was read out to the Tribunal last Wednesday: according to the note, the former head of the Prijedor police force, Simo Drljaca, requested the help of Mladic’s army to remove around five thousand bodies previously buried in the mine. Mladic wrote that Drljaca wanted to ‘dump this on the army’, and to dispose of the bodies ‘by burning, grinding, or in some other way’.
Forensic scientists are offering cautious estimates, and are currently mentioning 800 bodies for which there is sufficient evidence of being buried in Tomašica. A little less than half of these bodies were later moved to the Jakarina Kosa locality, which was discovered ten years ago.
The several-month-long exhumation, which is being led by the Bosnia-Herzegovina Prosecutors office with the aid of an international forensic team, is still not accompanied by an investigation to determine the identity of the perpetrators. ‘Since the mass grave was found, nobody has been detained, nobody interrogated, nobody linked to the mass grave’, surviving camp victims are warning. After repeated requests to the prosecution to immediately open an investigation into Tomašica, and to file charges against all those who participated in the cover-up, the associations of victims from Prijedor called on the President of the Hague Tribunal Theodor Meron to visit the site and feel the ‘smell of genocide’.
Neither the smell nor conscience are sufficient for Tomašica to be mentioned in Republika Srpska or in Serbia. State media on both sides of the Drina river very briefly reported this autumn about a dozen bodies having been found. A little more attention was awarded to the notorious mayor of Prijedor, who several days ago finally visited the site, since he determined that ‘people who were killed’ were buried there. However, the vow of silence is being broken on social networks: 15 November was declared Tomašica Tweet Day.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the search is ongoing for more than 8,000 missing persons. To date on the territory of Bosanska krajina 131 mass graves have been discovered, 61 of them located in the Prijedor area alone. During the war, 59 camps were established around Prijedor. So far it has been determined that around 3,500 people were killed in this area, most of them of Bosniak or Croat nationality.
The Hague Tribunal has convicted 16 Bosnian Serbs to a total of 230 years in prison for crimes committed in Prijedor and the surrounding area.
The biggest mass grave discovered so far was Crni Vrh in eastern Bosnia, where 629 bodies were found.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic for the Belgrade website Pešcanik.net, 20 November 2013.