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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Bosnia bolsters hunt for missing
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Sarajevo

Dignitaries visit mass grave near Potocari, outside Srebrenica
A new mass grave was found near Srebrenica this year
A new multi-ethnic organisation has been set up in Bosnia-Hercegovina to try to tackle one of the most sensitive legacies of the Bosnian war - the fate of the missing.

The war ended in 1995, but it is estimated that between 15-20,000 people are still unaccounted for.

For the past decade, separate organisations representing Muslims, Serbs and Croats have individually tried to find the people from their own ethnic groups.

But now a new state-level organisation called the "Missing Persons Insitute" has been set up which, for the first time, will involve all three groups working together and pooling their resources.

"For the first time, Bosnia is claiming collective responsibility for the search of missing persons, meaning we have effectively ended the segregation of the search for missing persons," says Kathryn Bomberger, who heads a separate organisation called the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

'Vicious game'

The commission tries to identify those killed in conflicts or natural disasters around the world and helped set up the MPI last month.

"Undoubtedly the process of finding and identifying the victims of the war was delayed and slowed down by the fact that different ethnically-based organisations were involved in the search," she explains.

Kathryn Bomberger, missing persons expert
Kathryn Bomberger: New body is "a real breakthrough"
"It has been a game - a vicious game for political gain, where there has been manipulation of numbers, manipulation of family members and I think this new organisation represents a real breakthrough."

The MPI will create a central database of missing, which will be able to make a more accurate calculation of the exact numbers of missing.

"It will help us come to truth and justice faster and prevent the manipulation of the missing," said Hatidza Mehmedovic, the head of one of the associations for survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Judicial role

Bosnia's Human Rights Minister, Mirsad Kebo, said he hoped the new organisation would be able to help the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of the missing bury their loved ones with dignity.

And there is one more important issue involved - that of war crimes.

"They're effectively digging up evidence of war crimes," says Kathryn Bomberger.

"The implications of what they are doing on the criminal-judicial process are huge. And they will have to work in parallel with the state-level structures addressing war crimes and that is significant.

"If they really share information for the first time, and if all three groups can work together on this sensitive issue, then perhaps real progress is being made on the long and painful road to national reconciliation."

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