Balkan river still bleeds the dead of wars past

DJUREVICI, Bosnia Mon Aug 9, 2010 10:50am EDT

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DJUREVICI, Bosnia (Reuters) - For generations, the River Drina separating Serbia from Bosnia has received the dead of the region's wars. Now, for the first time in decades, it is giving many of them up.

In recent weeks, experts have started searching the exposed bed along both sides of Lake Perucac, a 60 km (38 mile) long dammed section of the Drina that has been largely emptied to permit repairs to the dam.

Already, they have found about 50 incomplete bodies -- the remains of Bosnian Muslims and also at least three German Wehrmacht soldiers bearing Iron Cross decorations from World War Two.

The "bloody river's" history is even commemorated in song, and the exposed banks were an obvious place to search for the dead from the 1992-95 Bosnian war and the region's other recent conflicts.

"Sing, sing, Drina, tell the generations, how we fought bravely. The front sang, the battle was fought, near cold water, blood flowed," goes one World War One-era Serb nationalist song.

"Bodies have literally begun to come to the surface on the river banks," said Amor Masovic, a senior official in Bosnia's Commission for Missing Persons who has led most of Bosnia's war exhumations.

Around 70 Bosnian experts, including Sarajevo city and landscaping workers and mortuary employees, have been combing the shore and lake bed, in an area known for snakes as well as unexploded grenades and mines.

They are searching specifically for the remains of more than 1,000 Bosnian Muslims. Some went missing from the town of Visegrad in 1992, others from Srebrenica, site of the massacre in 1995 that was Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

Monday, a delegation from Serbia's special court for war crimes and the Serbian Commission for Missing Persons began searching for Kosovo Albanians killed by Serbian forces during NATO bombings in 1999. The bodies were put in a refrigerator truck and thrown in the lake.

Identification generally requires DNA analysis. Masovic said most of the bodies found so far were from Visegrad.

(Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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