Graves Found That Confirm Bosnia Massacre
Into Bosnia's Killing Fields Series starts tomorrow on how Monitor reporter David Rohde was captured and released by Bosnian Serbs.
FROM 100 yards away, the freshly turned earth of the field appeared to be covered with haphazard dots. Five feet away, the dots became empty shoes, shattered eyeglasses, and decaying clothing.Skip to next paragraph
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In the woods nearby, three canes and a crutch jutted from a mildewing heap of more than 100 windbreakers, sweatshirts, and leather jackets. No evidence of battles having been fought was found.
The forlorn debris and areas of fresh digging, discovered by the Monitor on Oct. 29, are the most specific and convincing evidence yet that Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Muslim civilians - including the elderly and crippled - after the fall of the UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica.
Bosnian Serbs say no massacres occurred and the graves are filled with Muslim soldiers killed in combat. But the crutch that was found is something no combatant would lean on. The three wooden canes are supports no soldiers would need.
The Monitor has visited four of six possible mass grave sites identified by US spy planes and satellites around the fallen Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. At
each site, human remains, documents from Srebrenica, Muslim identity cards, personal photos with Muslim names on them, or civilian clothing have been found (List of grave sites, left).
Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II was apparently carried out with brutal efficiency on the nights of July 14, 15, and 16, as nine survivors interviewed by the Monitor in September say it did. Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, whom eyewitnesses place at this and three other execution sites, apparently ordered the cold-blooded executions of as many as 5,000 Muslim prisoners.
The United States has said it will not sign any peace agreement that would allow General Mladic or ''President'' Radovan Karadzic to remain in power, and insists they must be turned over to the war crimes tribunal. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic have reportedly agreed to leave office, but only if they receive immunity from prosecution.
The new evidence found at Sahanici could increase pressure on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who says he was unaware of the massacres, to oust his erstwhile allies, Mladic and Karadzic. The future of the two indicted war criminals is a key issue in US-led talks in Ohio aimed at a comprehensive peace in the Balkans.
The new evidence found in Sahanici also may give the US added leverage to force Mr. Milosevic to finally come through on long-running promises to grant war crimes investigators access to mass graves around Srebrenica. Since the peace talks began, Milosevic has twice promised to grant free access to the sites, but failed to deliver.
But time may be running out. US intelligence officials announced last week that the Bosnian Serbs have already tried to destroy evidence at one of the mass graves last month and could be tampering with others now.
The US has had the photographic evidence of six graves around Srebrenica since late July and US agents may have visited the sites to confirm that they are not the result of agriculture or construction work, according to intelligence officials. US officials estimate that six graves are large enough to hold up to 2,700 bodies.
The Bosnian Serb authorities have repeatedly refused to grant the UN, tribunal investigators, and journalists free access to the area around Srebrenica since the enclave fell. Using pinpoint locations obtained from US-based intelligence sources, the Monitor visited the Sahanici area for three hours on Oct. 29 without the permission of Bosnian Serb authorities.
This correspondent changed the date of issue on a Bosnian Serb press accreditation from 19/12/94 to 29/10/95 and used it to pass through Bosnian Serb checkpoints and reach the area. This correspondent was arrested at the execution site by Bosnian Serb police, stripped of all documents and photos taken of the area, accused of espionage, and jailed for 10 days.
Up to now, reports of the massacres have been primarily based on survivor accounts that could not be independently confirmed. But the evidence found in the Sahanici area corroborates the accounts of five Muslim men who say they survived the execution of as many as 2,000 men from Srebrenica.