Forensic experts excavating largest mass grave in Bosnia to begin removing remains Wednesday

Tuesday, August 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Forensic experts carefully inspected bones Tuesday at the largest mass grave found in Bosnia to date, preparing to remove the remains of up to 100 victims unearthed so far.

The mass-grave site, the size of a tennis court, was opened last week on Crni Vrh hill, near the border with Serbia and about 50 miles northeast of Sarajevo.

It is believed to contain the remains of Muslims killed during the country's 1992-1995 war.

``The evidence so far tells us that these victims were Bosnian Muslims killed by local Serb troops between April and June 1992,'' said Murat Hurtic, the head of a regional branch of the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons.

Forensic experts digging as deep as nine feet in some sections found several layers of remains, most of them dismembered.

According to Hurtic, the site contains remains moved from other graves in an attempt to hide the bodies from war crime investigators. During removal and reburial, bodies were often torn up by bulldozers, then dumped by truckloads in the new grave.

``The remains are so mixed together that we have been forced to temporarily move and then replace bones while excavating underneath,'' Hurtic said.

Experts plan to start removing remains on Wednesday. They will be taken to an identification center in the northern town of Tuzla for DNA analysis.

Hurtic said experts will continue to unearth remains from the site, believed to be at least 12 feet deep, after the uncovered ones are removed. He estimates it will take up to two months to complete the exhumation process.

Hurtic said as many as 700 bodies are believed buried in the grave, including some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in 1995 when Serb forces overran the nearby U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica. That massacre is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

About 250,000 people died during the country's war between local Muslims, Serbs and Croats. More than 20,000 people remain missing and are presumed dead.

Forensic experts have so far exhumed 16,500 bodies from more than 300 mass graves found since the end of the war.