A mass grave which is already being described as the biggest in post-war Europe has been discovered at the beginning of September, more than twenty years after the crimes were committed, thanks to the information supplied by two local Serbs, who have, by their own admission, participated in disposing of the victims’ bodies. “The man simply came and showed us where the mass grave was. Since it was raining, we gave him a raincoat”, says one of the investigators working on the exhumation of bodies from the disused mine in Tomasica, near Prijedor.
Hidden from the rain, the former member of the paramilitary formations said that he was “feeling somewhat relieved”.
The locality covers over 3,000 square meters, but forensic scientists believe that the investigation will soon expand outside the marked perimeter. New bodies are being exhumed almost every day. They are being temporarily stored in the Sejkovaca hall near Sanski Most, on the other side of the entity border, where personal items found on the locality are also collected. Watches, documents, photos, anything that was left after the bodies were looted.
The grave was covered by several meters high artificial mounds, under which another layer of “soil” was discovered, consisting of piled-up earthly remains. The first bodies were found at the depth of seven meters. Due to specific soil content, the natural process of decomposition was significantly delayed. According to reports, after the grave was unearthed, the stench of death has been spreading throughout the entire area.
The stench of crimes has also been felt in the nearby mining settlement for two decades. The media are now reporting that the local population secretly appealed, on several occasions, to the authorities, asking for the mass grave to be moved, due to the unbearable stench from the bodies, which reached the settlement through underground currents also.
In the report on the exhumation of Tomasica, a Swedish TV station broadcasted inserts from a report from 1996, which included the statements of inhabitants, who, under conditions that they remain anonymous, testified about the everyday transport of bodies into Tomasica.
Surviving prisoners from Omarska, another mine in the Prijedor area which was converted into a prison camp, occasionally spoke about the lost mass grave in the chain of crimes committed in Prijedor. While confined, they retold among themselves horrid stories about piles of bodies of men, women and children. Forensic scientists are now confirming this for the very first time: “People were taken from the camps in Trnopolje and Omarska, and forced to unload bodies from the trucks and toss them into the grave. After finishing their tasks, they were shot on the spot.“
So far, 470 bodies were exhumed from the mine, announced on Wednesday the prosecutor in the trial against Ratko Mladic before the Hague Tribunal. The results of ten preliminary identifications have shown that the deaths of the victims are connected with the existing criminal charges. Earlier, the Hague Tribunal prosecutor confirmed that the findings from Tomasica will be included in the cases against Mladic and Karadzic, who are already standing trial for crimes of ethnic cleansing in the municipality of Prijedor, which, in addition to numerous individual crimes described in the indictment, point out to a years-long campaign to exterminate non-Serb population throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the beginning, it was expected that the exhumation will last for several weeks only, like those that were already carried out in the area of this mining settlement. Namely, in 2004 the bodies of 26 victims were discovered, and two years later another ten victims were found. Hundreds of bodies are now attracting many families, who have been searching, for decades, for their lost loved ones from Prijedor villages of Rizvanovici, Carakovo, Sredice, Biscani, the city center itself, and the Keraterm and Omarska camps. Around a thousand more people are still missing and it is still unknown where their bodies have been buried. They include 17 children and 15 women from the Zecova village.
The work of one of the three excavators which are used to remove layers of soil at the Tomasica site has been paid by the associations of families of the missing.
According to preliminary findings, during a three month period, the abandoned iron mine was used as a concentration center to store the bodies of victims of savage crimes committed in the summer of 1992. The bodies were unloaded from trucks, and many of them were later moved to secondary locations. The note from Mladic’s war journal, dated May 27, 1993, about the Tomasica site, was reread on Wednesday in the Tribunal – according to the note, the former head of Prijedor police force, Simo Drljaca, requested the help of Mladic’s army to remove around five thousand bodies previously buried in the mine. Mladic wrote that Drljaca wanted to “dump this on the army”, and to dispose of the bodies “by burning, grinding, or in some other way”.
Forensic scientists are offering cautious estimates, and are currently mentioning 800 bodies for which there is sufficient evidence of being buried in Tomasica. A little less than half of these bodies were later moved to the Jakarina Kosa locality, which has been discovered ten years ago.
The several months-long exhumation, which is being led by the Bosnia and Herzegovina Prosecutors office, with the aid of an international forensic team, is still not accompanied by an investigation to determine the identity of the perpetrators. “After the mass grave was found, nobody is being detained, nobody interrogated, nobody linked to the mass grave”, the surviving victims of camps are warning. After repeated requests to the prosecution to immediately open an investigation into Tomasica, and file charges against all those who participated in the cover-up, the associations of victims from Prijedor called on the President of the Hague Tribunal Theodor Meron to visit the site and feel the “smell of genocide”.
Neither the smell nor conscience is sufficient for Tomasica to be mentioned in Republika Srpska and Serbia. State media on both sides of the Drina river have very briefly reported this autumn about a dozen bodies that were found. A little more attention was awarded to the notorious mayor of Prijedor, who, several days ago, finally visited the site, since he determined that “people who were killed” were buried there.
The vow of silence is being broken on social networks: November 15 was declared Tomasica TweetDay.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the search is ongoing for more than 8,000 missing persons. So far, on the territory of Bosanska krajina 131 mass graves were discovered, 61 of them located in the Prijedor area only. During the war, 59 camps were established around Prijedor. So far, it was determined that around 3,500 people were killed in this area, most of them of Bosniak or Croat nationality.
The Hague Tribunal convicted 16 Bosnian Serbs to the total of 230 years of prison for crimes committed in Prijedor and the surrounding area.
The biggest mass grave discovered so far was Crni Vrh in eastern Bosnia, where 629 bodies were found.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic