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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Bosnia's largest mass grave
Nick Hawton
BBC correspondent at Crni Vrh

Forensic experts remove topsoil to reveal human bones
Forensic experts believe this is the largest mass grave found in Bosnia
This place - situated in rolling hills just a few kilometres from the border with Serbia - is called Crni Vrh or "Black Peak".

The area could not be more aptly named.

Most of the area's hills are covered in dense, dark woodland.

But at this particular spot, mechanical diggers have torn away the trees and the undergrowth to expose the naked earth.

The drone of their engines breaks the silence.

A 30-metre long trench has been dug into the yellow-red clay and there is feverish activity inside.

"We're trying to expose the bodies. We've already retrieved shoes, clothes and even a marble tile," says Hugh Tuller, a forensic archaeologist for the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP).

"But the most interesting so far is a couple of vertebrae from a child. So we know that this is a grave that contains at least some non-combatants and definitely one child," he adds.

United Nations war crimes investigators look on, taking photographs and making measurements.


But this is not just another mass grave in Bosnia.

This is the largest mass grave ever found in the country.

Investigators think there could be as many as 700 bodies here, making it twice as large as any other site.

It is thought that many of the victims are from or near the town of Zvornik and were rounded up and killed at the very start of the war in 1992.

Others are thought to be some of those massacred at Srebrenica.

Srebrenica mass grave
About 20,000 people are still missing following the Bosnia conflict
But it will take weeks of digging and then the difficult process of identification before the answers to these questions are known.

"I lost my father, two brothers, two uncles and numerous cousins," says 49-year-old Ahmed Grahic, who comes from a village near Zvornik.

He escaped death because he was working in Croatia at the time.

He now runs the association of Families of Captured and Missing from Zvornik Municipality.

He has come to the grave because he believes his two brothers may be buried here.

"It's difficult for me but I hope that finally - after 11 years - I will be able to find the bodies of my brothers.

"We must identify all the bodies so that they can be returned to their mothers and they can be given a proper funeral."

There are at least another 16 mass graves within two kilometres from here. What is clear is that a huge amount of organisation must have gone into the killing and subsequent concealing.

All this, just a few hundred metres from a main road between the towns of Tuzla and Zvornik.

While I stood looking into the grave, a black butterfly drifted in the breeze over the mounds of soil piled next to the trench.

It landed on the shoe of my colleague. He tried to shake it off but it did not want to go.

The BBC's Allan Little
"Investigators have been taken aback by what they have found"

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