41 Muslims Finally Buried in Bosnia
41 Muslims Finally Buried in Bosnia
Nov. 05, 2000
NOVOSEOCI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Forty-one Muslims came home Sunday to this hamlet now settled by Serbs, and they were buried by displaced and dispersed families who had spent eight years praying they might still be alive.
It was yet another Bosnian drama, a vignette of life in a patchwork country that cannot find peace five years after the Dayton accords ended its war.
Novoseoci died on Sept. 22, 1992, when Serb units assembled the small farming population in front of the mosque. Forty-five males were marched away. Damir Ocuz, at 14, was the youngest. Edhem Karic was 85. Everyone else fled.
Until September of this year, survivors could only guess that their worst fears were true. Eventually, a dying Serb with a bad conscience told authorities what many people had suspected. Crews went to work at Ivan Polje, three miles from here.
``We had to move tons of garbage and also 15-ton chunks of the mosque the Serbs destroyed before we uncovered the mass grave,'' said Amor Masovic, head of the Bosnian missing persons agency. ``First we located a thigh bone. Then, all the rest.''
Four of the missing were not found.
Masovic said Serbs had smashed the bodies together with a bulldozer, creating a nightmare puzzle for forensic experts who sought to identify the remains. When initial work was completed, family members were asked for confirmation.
Most former Novoseoci residents now live around Sarajevo, 30 miles west of here, out of the entity boundaries of Republika Srpska, Bosnian Serb territory.
``Each of the women knew exactly what their menfolk were wearing, what personal things they had with them, when they saw them for the last time,'' Masovic said. ``This was one of our easier identification tasks.''
The hard part, he added, is that the women and everyone else know who is responsible _ Serbs who were their neighbors before the war _ and yet none has been brought to justice.
Witnesses who survived the ethnic cleansing of Novoseoci agree on who took part and exactly what happened.
``Everyone knows,'' Masovic said. He named one prominent Serb living nearby, who has not been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as the mastermind behind the killings.
``He is in the Republika Srpska parliament, making speeches about human rights and the economy and dealing with international organizations,'' he said. ``How do you expect any emotional relief for these families in such circumstances?''
On Sunday, Amina Karic, 20, wept for her father, her grandfather, her uncle and eight other relatives among the 41.
``We hoped against hope that they might have survived in a camp somewhere, that they had been taken away and were still alive,'' she said. ``Now we have an answer, but that does not bring us peace.''
Hundreds of Muslims came for the burial and then boarded cars and buses to return to Sarajevo. Although the peace accords provide for free movement among the three ethnic entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, reality is a different matter.
Serbs came to stay in areas they emptied of Muslims, dynamiting mosques and minarets. When internal boundary lines were drawn in Dayton, the idea was eventual unity with respect for property and religious sites of prewar residents.
In Novoseoci, Werner Zofel, an Austrian in charge of the international victim recovery program in Bosnia, said he halted a Serb attempt to build a military camp in 1998 atop the Muslim burial ground.
``They were trying to fulfill genocide under the eyes of the international community,'' Zofel said. He alerted NATO officers, who stopped the construction.
Although Serbs and Croats are among the more than 20,000 people still missing after the war, 90 percent are Muslim, Zofel said.
With prayers and a brief eulogy, 41 thin coffins covered in white shrouds were lowered into long rows of graves. Family members and friends heaved shovelfuls of dirt until each was a tidy mound marked by a simple wooden panel.
In a final tribute, mourners lifted their palms upward and intoned, ``Allahu akbar. God is great.'' Slowly, they walked away again from Novoseoci.
``This was a first step toward closure,'' Masovic said. ``But each these victims had eight or nine bullet holes. Only military trucks could have carried those huge chunks of the mosque. This was a deliberate, organized act of terror, not war.
``No family can rest until the war criminals are punished.''