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SFOR guard mass grave

By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001

SFOR troops provide security support to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) in their task of recovering the remains of the bodies from a mass grave near Foca/Srbinje. Germans soldiers from Filipovici camp carry out this mission.

Vicinity of Foca - At the exhumation site, German soldiers guard and patrol the area. The General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), Annex 1A, article VI, states that SFOR "shall have the right to fulfil its supporting tasks, within the limits of its assigned principal tasks and available resources, and on request."
The mass grave has been found at Maluša mount, in south-eastern Republika Srpska, Multinational Division - South-east (MND-SE), in the German area of responsibility (AOR). German troops from the Filipovici camp are carrying out the mission. " Our mission is to protect exhumation teams with patrols, and to evacuate them if necessary. We are protecting the site, 24 hours per day," explained 1st Lt. Grotkopp, second in command of Filipovici camp.
In this case the SFOR intervention started after receiving one supporting request from ICTY. "SFOR has to provide a safe and secure environment to both organisations (ICTY and ICMP). But they do not have the same level of support; ICTY gets more than ICMP. In the case of Maluša mount, ICTY requested 24-hour protection in order to avoid attempted tampering of evidence," said French Gendarmerie Lt. Col. Prunier, SFOR liaison officer to ICTY and ICMP. "Normally for ICMP, SFOR has only to secure the environment, doing round patrols in case of low threat, and 24 hours a day on the site in case of high threat. In certain circumstances, SFOR may escort to and from the exhumation site," Prunier explained. "As ICTY and ICMP liaison officer, I accompany the ICMP commissions and the ICTY investigators on the field in order to assess the threat and determine the level of the SFOR support."
The mass grave is a 33-meter-deep natural well among the forests of the Maluša mount, in a slope where no path reaches. At the bottom of the grotto are the bodies in a small area between 15 and 18 m², with a crater of 1.5-metre radius. In this place civil workers remove from the pit white plastic bags containing the remains of corpses, which are laid by the side. The conditions in the pit are very hard, the bottom surface is a small area; which can only permit five persons working at the same time.
Two ICMP forensic doctors work, one of them broke her leg while going down the ladder inside the natural grotto.
"Today (June 18) is our ninth day we have been working, 47 bodies have been found, and 80 bodies in total are expected to be found. All of them have their hands tied with a rope and in the area around the pit there were spent casings," said a civilian worker from a Bosniac commission. It is important to know that ICMP assists and monitors exhumations to civil BiH commissions that carry out the task (B-Serb from the Republic Srpska, and B-Croat and Bosniac from the Federation) and in each opstina (municipality) there is a local commission, too. ICMP was set up by the Peace Implementation Council in Florence on June 13, 1996, as "a team of international forensic scientists to monitor exhumations, to establish an antemortem database and to assist with exhumations where other means of investigations have proven unsuccessful or where there is reason to believe that exhumation will provide an efficient means for resolving cases."

Thanks to DNA it will be possible to identify the remains. The Deoxyribonucleic acid is a characteristic of the nucleus of the chromosomes, composed of two twisted lines in double spiral and each one made in molecular succession, which contains genetic information. Therefore if we know this succession, different for each person and inherited from our respective progenitors, and knowing other DNA from relatives, it would be possible to determine if these remains belong to the person who we are looking for, or not.

On June 10, the chairperson of this organisation, James Kimsey, accompanied by Queen Noor of Jordan, who was on a tour of the Balkans promoting the work of ICMP, officially opened one ICMP-backed DNA-laboratory. It could help the identification of the remains from corpses of mass graves throughout BiH. This laboratory, specialising in blood, is based in Tuzla, a city located in the northeast of the Federation (Canton 3, MND-N area), where a great amount of body bags containing the remains of unidentified corpses from the war are stored in the forensic service. There are two other DNA-laboratories in BiH, one in Sarajevo specialising in bones, and the other in Banja Luka, which is inoperative at the moment. The figures of missing persons fluctuate, the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) estimates about 17,000, but other organisations speak about 25,000 to 30,000 persons.
First the found bodies will go to the Visoko morgue, where an autopsy will take place. The process of authentication will start, all the unidentified bodies will be tested in a DNA laboratory. Exhumation and identification are part of the investigation, ICTY looking for evidence in war crimes. The French Press Agency AFP reported: "The bodies found in the grave are believed to be those of some 400 non-Serb civilians, killed in the Foca prison, which was turned into a concentration camp after Serb forces overran the city at the outbreak of war."
"SFOR also provided information about possible mass grave sites. First we give the elements to ICTY; if ICTY is not interested in, they can transfer this information to ICMP," concluded Prunier.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Germany
Our Partners - ICTY
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