From the Monitor archives: a 'chilling picture' of Srebrenica massacre

Today, on the 19th anniversary of the genocide, 175 more newly identified victims will be buried. Monitor correspondent David Rohde won a Pulitzer Prize for early reporting of one of the biggest massacres in modern Europe.

By , Staff writer

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    Bosnian Muslim women cry near the coffin of their relative, which is one of the 175 coffins of newly identified victims from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in Potocari Memorial Center, near Srebrenica, July 10, 2014.
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Nineteen years after the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, 175 newly identified victims of the genocide in Srebrenica will be buried at the Potocari memorial cemetery in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During the Bosnian War from 1992-95, the towns of Srebrenica and Zepa were supposed to be United Nations protected areas. Serbian forces overwhelmed the towns and rounded up and killed male Bosnian Muslims. The US government said that, based on satellite photos, it believed a large-scale killing had taken place and that it knew where the graves were located, causing Serbian troops to bulldoze and relocate bodies.

Since then 6,066 victims have been identified, often with DNA identification since many remains were ripped apart in attempts to relocate the bodies. The world's largest DNA-assisted identification program, the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), is based in Bosnia. 

Recommended: The Balkans 101: How much do you know? Take our quiz.

"Without DNA, we would have never been able to identify anyone," Kathryne Bomberger, head of ICMP, told the Associated Press. "However, this means that the families have to make the difficult decision on when to bury a person. And many of the women from Srebrenica want to bury their sons, their family members, the way they remember them when they were alive."

The Monitor reports 

The Monitor's reporter in Bosnia during the conflict, David Rohde, won a Pulitzer Prize for his "persistent on-site reporting of the massacre."

Mr. Rohde began interviewing people who had escaped the massacre. A report filed on Aug. 3, 1995 details the chilling experience of those who survived.

Two Muslim cousins from the fallen UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia describe being captured by Serb soldiers last month and bused to a remote location. Along with hundreds of other men, they were lined up and systematically shot.

One of the men took his cousin's hand as the firing began and bade him farewell. But both lived: one unscathed and the other with a slight head wound. The Serb soldiers assumed they were dead.

Both hid among the corpses for hours, listening to what they believe were mass executions by machine guns.

Rohde traveled into Serbian rebel-held territory without permission to try and corroborate the evidence presented by the US government that hundreds, or thousands, of Muslims were killed by the Serbs. His reporting from Aug. 18, 1995 found remaining evidence in places indicated on the spy photos.

During a reporter's visit to the site this Wednesday, three areas of fresh digging were clearly visible. On the edge of the smallest of the three alleged mass graves, what appeared to be a human femur and tibia surrounded by bits of tattered fabric jutted from rich brown dirt.

One hundred yards from the second-largest grave, handwritten notes from a March 14, 1995, local government meeting in the village of Potocari, located inside the former UN "safe area" of Srebrenica, were found. Twenty feet from the same grave, a 1982 elementary school diploma and what appeared to be washed-out personal photographs of a Muslim youth from the village of Kravice, also near Srebrenica, were found.

On Aug. 25, 1995 Rohde detailed how he managed to get into a rebel held area.

Because Serb officials somehow failed to provide me with a military escort and gave me wrong directions, I ended up on the road to the towns of Nova Kasaba and Bratunac. Suddenly, I realized I was near the area shown in the photos.

The soccer field, now filled with grazing cows and horses, rolled by on my right. Bosnian Serb soldiers at a military command post eyed my car warily. I turned back and parked my car on a dirt road where it could not be seen. I left my Serb driver and interpreter in the car.... I walked toward the dirt. To my left, something white jutted from a 20 foot by 20 foot plot of freshly dug earth. Two long, thin bones, one the size and shape of a human femur, the other of a human tibia, stared up at me.

Rohde published a piece on Oct. 2, 1995 detailing further evidence of what had taken place.

The nine survivors, four of whom have never been interviewed by a journalist before, paint a chilling picture of a far vaster killing field around Srebrenica than previously imagined:

Along with the execution of as many as 2,000 prisoners in Karakaj, hundreds of prisoners were executed in a warehouse in the village of Kravica, according to a survivor. At least three other executions involving 15 to 30 men occurred near the villages of Kuslat, Zabrde, and Rasica Gai, according to other survivors.

Rohde was detained by Serbian forces on Oct. 29 when he drove into Serbian-held territory without authorization for a second trip to continue his reporting. He was released 10 days later amid mounting international pressure.

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