Exhumations in Kamenica

Lt. Col. Andreas Steffan
First published in
SFOR Informer#147, September 12, 2002

“It's unbelievable, what people can do with other people,” said Staff Sgt. John Billings, squad leader, U.S. Army, stationed at Forward Operation Base (FOB) Connor, located near Srebrenica. Billing and other troops stand in front of a mass grave near Kamenica, 15 minutes away by car from Srebrenica. It's the fourth mass grave the American squad leader has seen in his seven-month SFOR tour. Until last year, SFOR troops provided security for exhumations. Effective this year, SFOR only monitors them.

Kamenica - Several thousands of Bosniacs died during the Srebrenica massacres. Their murderers buried the bodies in mass graves. Later, these bodies were put in other places, called secondary mass graves. Often, big bulldozers were used; so many bodies were put in two or more places. On of these secondary mass graves was found beside the road from Kamenica to Cancari in the municipality (opstina) of Zvornik. It was the second of these kinds of mass grave found in the area. And it will not be the last one. “CR-05-000” is the official number of the Kamenica mass grave, which was dated from the end of the year 1995 / beginning of the year1996.
Only three ID cards
For Silvia Stankovic, judge of cantonal court of Tuzla, and the rest of her crew, it is hard to work on this place. The team found in the last three weeks over 150 body-parts, over 50 complete bodies and three ID cards. Only two victims could be directly identified in this time. “We expect that we will find 400 corpses in this mass grave,” said Eduard Mehmedovic, exhumation's monitor of International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP). All parts and bodies from this mass grave will be put into bags.
“We don't like the word 'bag' in context with the exhumation. So we say cases,” explained Mehmedovic. Specialists and civilian workers are doing their job in “CR-05-000”. The aim is to identify all bodies in the mass grave. The Kamenica-Team exhumed in total, nearly 4,000 victims. Only 200 victims could be identified.
“Not such a large number,” said Stankovic. But often, the victims will not be found in one mass grave. Their parts have been located in secondary graves after being removed from the initial mass grave site.
“It's good, that we can identify more and more victims with DNA-analysis,” explained the judge.
This is good because the families of the victims will acquire a certainty as to what happened to their family members.
A penetrable smell permeates the air surrounding the digging place. A small area, it is no more than five to ten metres, but full with bodies and body parts. The specialists begin digging carefully.
“It's a diffusing work, because you can not see at the first view what you will find,” explains Muhidin Tabakovic. The 19 year-old Bosniac is one of the workers. During three years, he worked first for International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and now for ICMP. The reason why he works here was that he wants to learn the English language. Like Billings, he didn't know what he should think about the mass graves.
“There will be no answer of that, what people can do to people,” he said.
Other mass graves in this area
Often, bones with parts of clothes are found. It's quite on secondary mass grave “CR-05-000”. Other specialists take the minutes if a new body-part or a body will be found. “CR-05-298b” is the number of one of these body-parts. May be, one day, “CR-05-298b” will become a name. Then, it will be one case of thousands, who will be cleared up, and many other cases will follow.
“We know about many other mass graves in this area,” said Mehmedovic. So, many, many years will be needed to cope with these war crimes.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
Our Partners - ICTY

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Photos: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

Bulldozer tracks are visible at the exhumation site.


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Pictures are used to document every new found remain in the Kamenica mass grave.


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Silvia Stankovic, judge of cantonal court of Tuzla, and other specialists, carefully check their paperwork.


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The position of remains will be surveyed by specialists. It is necessary for the documentation process.