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Following the discovery last year of another mass grave in Bosnia, 12 more Bosnian Serbs have been arrested and are now facing war crimes charges. The arrests were made Monday in the northern part of the country – a region inhabited predominantly by ethnic Serbs – and the charges relate to ethnic cleansing atrocities committed during the Balkan conflicts in the early 1990s.
The mass grave, which is thought to contain the bodies of up to 1,000 people; mostly Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, was unearthed last year near the town of Tomašica. Not all the victims have been identified, but an ongoing investigation into the deaths of 29 women and children lead to the arrests of the 12 suspects, according to the Bosnian prosecutor’s office. The 29 victims in question have not been identified from the mass grave and their whereabouts is still unknown.
In a statement announcing the arrests, the prosecutor’s office said that the men “are charged with murders, torture, rapes, as well as with looting and destroying the property of Bosniaks in the village of Zecovi as part of a bid to drive the Bosniaks from the village.”
After Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) withdrew from the federation of nations formally called Yugoslavia in 1992, ethnic Serbs seized control of almost half the country’s territory and declared an autonomous region called the Republika Sprska (RS), which encompasses much of the eastern and northern parts of BiH. Bosnian Serbs waged a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Croats and the three-year war claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people – most of them Bosniaks. The worst chapter of the conflict was the massacre of some 8,000 mostly Bosniak men, women and children in the town of Srebrenica.
To date, the United Nations entity now known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has indicted a total of 161 people for war crimes or crimes against humanity, relating to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia; fighting and ethnic unrest took place in Bosnia, Croatia and – briefly – in Slovenia, all countries that declared independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
Ratko Mladić, who commanded the Bosnian Serb forces during the conflict, still faces charges and the prosecution was recently granted a request to investigate the Tomašica incident for new evidence against him. Radovan Karadzic, the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, has also faced trial for his role in the conflict. In Karadzic’s case, both the prosecution and defense have wrapped up and a verdict is expected next year, although he is currently attempting to have newly revealed documents considered in the case. The prosecution will now reopen to consider new evidence, in light of the Tomašica discovery. Karadzic, whose trial lasted five years, stunned the court by asserting that no ethnic cleansing had taken place during the conflict.
The mass grave at Tomašica, which was uncovered in September 2013, will be the largest mass grave found in Bosnia since the conclusion of the conflict in 1995. According to a report from the Associated Press, the grave is around 30 feet deep and covers an area of almost 54,000 square feet. The discovery of the mass grave occurred during investigations into an assault, by Bosnian Serb forces, on the village of Zecovi which claimed the lives of 150 people. The 12 Bosnian Serbs arrested on war crimes charges are said to have taken part in the attack.
Graham J Noble