BRCKO, Bosnia (Reuters) - The town that has been dubbed a “success story” and a model of reconciliation among Bosnia’s Croats, Serbs and Muslims since the end of the 1992-95 war is finally facing the past.
Some 500 Muslims and Croats died when Bosnian Serbs captured Brcko in 1992, killed in the notorious Luka camp, in the streets and in their homes. Over 400 bodies are still missing.
Last week, work started on the second mass grave found in the town, a decade after the first pit was discovered. At the Gorica site on Brcko’s outskirts, relatives of the missing sit and watch experts shift and sieve the earth.
Nadira Suljic is one of them. Paramilitaries dragged her 30-year-old son from the family home in May 1992 and killed him in a neighbor’s garden. She found his glasses but not his body.
She peers into the mud, hoping to see the remains of a sweater she knitted for him and he wore the day he died.
“It was blue,” she said. “I hope at least a part of it was preserved so I can see right away if he was buried here.”
The town of Brcko sits astride a narrow corridor of land connecting the western and eastern parts of the Bosnian Serb Republic, the territory awarded to Serbs in the Dayton Accords that ended the war in 1995.
The link is vital and ownership of Brcko was sorely contested by the Serbs who controlled it and the Muslims and Croats who formed the pre-war majority. Neither side triumphed. A 1999 ruling declared it a “neutral district” and placed it under U.S. supervision, and it has flourished since.
It has shown Bosnia the way ahead in refugee returns, economic reforms and ethnic cooperation, under a scheme that guaranteed all three ethnic groups an equal role.
But when it comes to finding the missing, Brcko lags other towns embroiled in the conflict that claimed over 100,000 lives.
“Resolving the fate of the missing is the one last thing we need to do if we want to say we have succeeded in Brcko,” said mayor Mirsad Djapo, a Muslim.
“It is important first because the families need to find and bury the bodies of their loved ones and also for the judicial authorities to finally find and punish the guilty.”
Half of some 30,000 Bosnians missing since the war have been found in 375 mass graves and hundreds of individual graves. In Brcko, investigators found 80 bodies in a grave exhumed in 1996.
Murat Hurtic of the missing persons commission in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosnia’s other half, said the Gorica grave, measuring 13 by 3.5 metres, (30 feet by 12) may yield more than that.
The grave, near a Christian cemetery, was well hidden under piles of earth and covered with trees.
“We have so far found about 40 complete and incomplete bodies,” Hurtic said. “The number could rise to over a hundred.”
Officials and families hope the evidence gathered here would lead to more indictments for crimes committed in the spring and summer of 1992. So far no commanders and only three low-ranking Bosnian Serbs have been sentenced for killings, torture or rape.
A further three are on trial for the random executions of several Muslims in town, among them the son of Nadira Suljic.