On the Killing Fields of Kamenica, A Search for Lost Bosnian Muslims
KAMENICA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — CORROBORATIVE evidence of the slaughter of Muslim men has surfaced as war crimes investigators and journalists continue their search of the countryside in eastern Bosnia.
The remains of at least 72 Muslim men, who were killed as they fled the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica last July, have been found strewn across green rolling hills about three miles west of the town.
Investigators from the International War Crimes Tribunal are visiting the sites of six mass graves here, believed to hold the bodies of about 4,000 Muslims killed by Bosnian Serbs. Some 8,000 men are still missing.
The grisly hillside scene is one of many where 10,000 men fleeing Srebrenica were ambushed. It confirms survivors' accounts of a harrowing flight from Srebrenica, and it undercuts statements by Bosnian Serb officials that mass graves in the area are filled with Muslims who either were killed in combat or shot each other while arguing over whether to surrender.
The remains lie in small groups of three to five and appear to lie exactly where the men died eight months ago.
Survivors say the ambush split the approximately 10,000-man column in two, prompting thousands of panicked civilians to separate from the larger group.
On the evening of July 12, approximately 2,000 men from Srebrenica were gathered on the hilltop to rest and regroup when they were attacked on three sides by Bosnian Serb forces using automatic rifles, mortars, and an anti-aircraft guns.
Amid skeletons remaining in one area, the fin sections of two Bosnian Serb mortars were found. At the top of the hill, bodies lie in open fields where survivors say the ambush began. Only five of the 72 bodies are in uniform, and ammunition or firearms are next to only eight of them. Passports, ID cards, personal photos, razors, tooth brushes, and toothpaste tubes lie next to many of the remains. Two skeletons are near makeshift stretchers - tree limbs with blankets wrapped around them - dumped by the panicked men who carried them as the ambush began.
At the bottom of the hill, bodies are in clusters of trees where men scrambled for cover.
Many of the bodies have been pilfered for valuables. Three men in civilian clothes believed to be Bosnian Serbs were seen picking through belongings lying next to a group of skeletons on Sunday. They fled when confronted by journalists.
Miguel Gil Moreno, a photographer with Associated Press Television who discovered the skeletons last month, says human remains, wallets, bags, and identification papers appear to have been searched or moved in recent weeks. The tampering appeared to be more to collect valuables than destroy evidence, but the pilfering could further anger Srebrenica survivors and complicate efforts to identify the bodies.
Mr. Gil Moreno discovered the bodies Feb. 4 by going beyond the area being shown to UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Elizabeth Rehn. She saw skeletons of a dozen people who Bosnian Serb officials said had died in combat. The officials also told Ms. Rehn that mines prevented her from safely surveying the larger area. No evidence of mines was found during a comprehensive four-hour search of the roughly one-square-mile area.
Kamenica, a former Muslim farming village that was ethnically cleansed by Bosnian Serbs in 1992, is an isolated, strikingly beautiful area located a little over a mile off the main asphalt road that runs through the area. A dozen burned-out homes line a steep valley covered with far more open fields than trees, indicating that the men who were ambushed while fleeing Srebrenica had almost no cover.
Soon after the ambush at Kamenica, hundreds of demoralized Muslims surrendered to Bosnian Serbs who wore stolen UN uniforms. The group was then told by Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic they would not be harmed, marched to a warehouse in Kravica, and executed.
Refugees from Srebrenica are demanding that the international community, which declared Srebrenica a protected civilian safe area in 1993 but allowed it to fall to Bosnian Serbs forces last July, recover the bodies for identification and proper burial. "These are human beings, not animals. They don't deserve to be left out there like that," says Lt. Meho Osmanovic, a survivor of the march.
Survivors say hundreds more bodies are scattered throughout the forest at various ambush sites and are volunteering to take UN officials to them if given adequate security. Rehn's office has assembled a group of experts to investigate the Kamenica ambush and attempt to identify all of the missing people from Srebrenica.