Thousands gathered Sunday for a final farewell to 284 people killed in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, after their remains were exhumed from one of the largest mass graves found in the country.
“I hope it will be easier now,” said 48-year old Suad Tatarevic, who came to bury some 40 family members lost to the mass killing, including his father and six brothers.
“At least I know where their graves are and can come to pray for them,” he said as he knelt before the coffins of his loved ones, lined up with hundreds of others on a local playing field.
Tatarevic managed to flee when his father and brothers were killed on July 22, 1992, in their village of Zecovi. His family were executed by Bosnian Serb forces as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the war, their bodies among 284 dumped in a huge mass grave.
Most of those killed were men, but they also included three women and a dozen teenagers aged 13 to 17 at the time. All but one — a Croat — were Muslims from the northwestern towns of Kozarac and Prijedor and surrounding villages.
An imam said a prayer for the dead before their coffins were transported towards cemeteries in their home villages across the region.
Most of the victims were exhumed from a mass grave found last year in a disused mine in the village of Tomasica, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Prijedor.
Some 3,500 people were killed in the region at the beginning of the inter-ethnic war that claimed 100,000 lives throughout Bosnia. Some 700 people from the region remain unaccounted for. Aldin Kahteran, 32, who was expelled from his village of Carakovo and now lives in France, had come home to bury father.
“In this region there were 3,500 deaths but only 16 Serb soldiers have been condemned” for these crimes, he said.
Between September and November 2013 forensic experts exhumed the remains of 435 people from the Tomasica mass grave, one of the largest uncovered since the war, but some victims have yet to be identified.
Bosnian Serbs took control of the Prijedor region in April 1992, forcing non-Serbs to leave their homes before destroying them.
Families were split up and thousands of people were thrown into three detention camps in the northwest, where they were held in squalid conditions, with many tortured and executed.
It was photographs of emaciated prisoners at Omarska — reminiscent of the Nazi death camps — broadcast in the summer of 1992 that shocked the world and drew international attention to the Serb campaign of so-called “ethnic cleansing”.
The former Bosnian Serb political and military chiefs, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are currently standing trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, charged among other crimes for their role in the atrocities in the Prijedor region. SAPA