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Grave Sites Reportedly Cleansed
Tampering Reported as Investigators
Begin Probe of Suspected Mass Graves

(VLASENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina—AP) Buried in the rolling fields and forests of eastern Bosnia may be evidence of the reported slaughter of thousands of Muslims by Serb fighters last year. An estimated 7,000 Muslims are missing from the Serb assault that captured the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica last July. Survivors say Muslim men were systematically killed and buried in mass graves. Investigators guarded by the U.S. Army were to start surveying the sites Wednesday, but military sources said no major digging in the thawing ground was expected for a week.

Officials from the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia met Tuesday with U.S. military officers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, which is to provide security. The brigade’s headquarters, Camp Lisa, is located in the town of Vlasenica—12 miles from Srebrenica and 37 miles from Zvornik, where suspected mass grave sites have also been identified. Jean Rene Ruez said his six-member team of investigators would begin surveying sites Wednesday, but declined to provide details.

Col. John Batiste, of Jaffrey, N.H., commander of the 2nd Brigade, said the team would initially conduct reconnaissance of suspected grave sites. Military sources speaking on condition of anonymity indicated there would be no major digging for a week or so. They said initially the team would survey seven sites.

Serbs Publicizing their Victimization
Serbs, meanwhile, are publicizing alleged atrocities where they were the victims. Belgrade’s Tanjug news agency said Tuesday that digs at Mrkonjic Grad in western Bosnia have revealed the remains of 110 Serb soldiers and civilians. Exhumation began Saturday, and the mass graves are believed to contain more than 200 bodies, Tanjug said. Bosnian Serb sources claim that at least 300 Serbs—soldiers and civilians—died in the Croat offensive last autumn against Mrkonjic Grad. Serbs lost the town but were ceded it in the negotiations that led to the Dayton peace agreement late last year and the end of the Bosnian war.

The U.S. Army said it would provide nearly 100 troops drawn from the NATO-led peace force for the survey near Srebrenica, as well as eight Bradley fighting vehicles, artillery, and attack helicopters for security. Asked if he expected trouble from the Bosnian Serbs, in whose territory the sites lie, Batiste said: "In the past two to three weeks, we’ve been talking to the Serbs about it, and they are supporting it. I expect no problems." He said he could not say how long the operation would last.

Batiste said the soldiers would not clear mines, exhume remains, or guard sites when the investigators are not working. He said the soldiers would not be close to the investigators but would be "in a position to react if necessary." Expressing concern that its strength would be diluted by taking on too many tasks, NATO for months fought pressure to get actively involved in the hunt for mass graves. The new flexibility on the part of the American force appeared to be at Washington’s order.

Grave Site Tampering Reported
There have been reports the Serbs have tampered with the sites to cover up their alleged war crimes. But Batiste said the sites are still under satellite surveillance, and that as far as he knew they had not been tampered with. The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday that two mass graves that American forces were assigned to safeguard have been tampered with and bodies of Muslims buried there apparently removed. The newspaper said sections of two mass graves near the town of Karakaj were dug up, and civilian clothing and other items photographed there in October were removed.

The war crimes tribunal has indicted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, for their alleged roles in the Srebrenica massacres. Two Bosnian Serb soldiers who are suspected of taking part have been extradited from Serbia to the tribunal. Inching closer to full compliance with the U.S.-brokered peace accord, Bosnian Serbs and Croats meeting in northern Bosnia set free 21 people Tuesday—the Serbs 6, the Croats 15. Serbs, Muslims and Croats still hold dozens of prisoners of war.

Additional resources
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

  • Bosnian Massacre Sites Swept of Key Evidence The Christian Science Monitor

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