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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 18:14 GMT
Eyewitness: Unearthing Bosnia's dead
Forensic archaeologists in Zvornik, Bosnia, examine mass graves
The task of identifying Srebrenica's dead continues
A forensic archaeologist who helped uncover mass graves at the site of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in the former Yugoslavia has told the BBC of her harrowing experiences.

Courtney Angela Brkic, an American of Croatian origin, joined a UN team of forensic investigators uncovering mass graves in eastern Bosnia at the age of 23.

Ms Brkic - who worked in the US as a field archaeologist and had never worked on an exhumation - joined Field Physicians For Human Rights in 1996.

"On that team, I was the only person who spoke the language, who had worked with people in that area before - my family came from that area," Ms Brkic told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

"So I had this very personal connection, and I think that's ultimately why I decided, at the end of a month there, to leave that work."

Empathy for victims

It is now known that more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb soldiers following the fall of Srebrenica.

Mass graves near Srebrenica
At every point, I didn't see bodies - I saw people
Courtney Angela Brkic
The town was under the protection of Dutch troops, but they were poorly trained and faced with a near impossible task, a report into the massacre later found.

The task of unearthing the remains of those killed continues, with bones currently being exhumed from a mass grave site near the eastern Bosnian town of Zvornik.

"The graves had been filled in in 1995, in the course of the Srebrenica massacre, and we were going there, compiling evidence and information," Ms Brkic said.

She said she was working both to help identify the dead, "to present that information to surviving family members," and to help gather evidence for the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Ms Brkic said she had tried to become detached from the work, but that her family connection to the area and her inexperience meant she became "immersed" in the past lives of the victims.

In a book she has written, she describes washing the clothes of some of the dead, and imagining them being washed by the wives of the men who had been killed.

However, she also insisted that "a certain amount of empathy" with the people who were in the graves was needed.

"At every point, I didn't see bodies - I saw people," she recalled.

"I didn't see articles of clothing; I saw clothing that had been knitted and sewn for these men by women who were waiting for them."

Missing people

Ms Brkic added that she had spent a year interviewing Croatia's displaced people.

Widows of Srebrenica massacre
Ms Brkic spent a year with the widows of many missing men
Talking to them, she found that the one recurring theme amongst them was the missing people.

"It was something that had struck almost every family, this idea that their sons or husbands had just disappeared," she said.

"They were presumed to be dead, but many of these women did not have that definitive knowledge."

Ms Brkic also says there are a number of missing people in her own family history.

"My grandmother lost her partner in World War II in a concentration camp... the way that she came to the knowledge that he was killed was quite simply that he did not return after the war," she explained.

"So from a very early age I was conscious of this issue, of missing people who disappear and are never seen again."

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