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Tribunal Prepares to Open Mass Graves

The Search for Victims of Srebrenica
As NATO Offers Limited Assistance

(VLASENICA, Bosnia, April 2—Reuters) U.N. war crimes investigators moved into eastern Bosnia on Tuesday to prepare to excavate sites believed to be mass graves of thousands of Muslim prisoners massacred by Serbs. The Bosnian Serb army has been accused of killing between 3,000 and 8,000 men missing after it captured the Muslim "safe haven" of Srebrenica last July. The prisoners are thought to have been shot and bulldozed into 11 mass graves dug between Srebrenica and Zvornik, 30 km (20 miles) to the north, in one of the worst atrocities of the 3½-year war in Bosnia.

MAP: VlasenicaThe small group of investigators was sent by the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. They went first to a NATO peacekeeping base at Vlasenica manned by U.S. troops, on the edge of the search area, and made clear that they wanted no press interference while they exhumed remains and collated evidence. They were not expected to begin digging on Tuesday.

The U.S. commander in the area, Colonel John Baptiste, told reporters he would protect the investigators—but not the grave sites— and did not expect trouble from the Bosnian Serb army or police. "We're going to provide area security no different to what we provide every day," he added. "That will include quick reaction forces, not close to (the team) but in a position to react if necessary." The reaction forces would be armed with attack helicopters and artillery, and a small liaison group would be attached to the investigators.

How NATO Will, Won't Help
Setting the limits to what his 2nd Brigade of the 1st U.S. Armoured Division would do, Baptiste added: "They will not clear mines. They will not exhume remains. They will not investigate suspected atrocity sites. We will not guard sites, evidence or suspected war criminals. We will not be involved in witness protection." Commanders of the NATO peace implementation mission have consistently resisted being drawn into the war crimes aspect of the Dayton agreement which ended the fighting last last year.

They have refused to guard grave sites identified by U.S. air surveillance to prevent Bosnian Serbs tampering with evidence or made any effort to arrest war criminals indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The tribunal indicted Bosnian Serb "president" Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic after Srebrenica but neither is yet in custody. Mladic led Serb troops into Srebrenica as the U.N. designated safe area fell despite the presence of Dutch U.N. peacekeepers.

Women, children and old people were transported to Muslim-held territory but able-bodied men in the town were separated from their families. Word quickly filtered out that they were driven to grave sites and riddled with bullets to prevent them rejoining Bosnian goverment forces elsewhere. The Serbian government surrendered two Serb troopers who claimed they took part in the massacres to the U.N. court last weekend. They are being held in The Hague as witnesses.

Additional resources
In Bosnia, Broken Families Search the Earth for Broken Bodies
The New York Times, April 2
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
from the United Nations
Coalition for International Justice
Reports concerning human rights abuses in Bosnia
published by Intac Access
Major War Criminals/Suspects from CalTech's Bosnia Site
Reports on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia
from CalTech's Bosnia Site
Six Possible Grave Sites Identified By US Intelligence Agencies
from The Christian Science Monitor
Exposing Europe's Worst Massacre Since the Holocaust
from The Christian Science Monitor

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