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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 06:28 GMT
Ex-foes make peace at Omarska
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Omarska, Bosnia

Notorious "White House" at Omarska
The "White House" is a stark reminder of wartime atrocities
A horse is grazing close to the buildings. Birds flutter in the winter breeze and land on the dilapidated roof of the "White House". A peaceful scene.

But 13 years ago, this place, and especially the White House, witnessed some of the most horrific acts of the Bosnian War.

"There was a roll-call at night and the men were taken out," says Muharem Murselovic, 58, a Muslim businessman who spent more than two months at Omarska, a former iron ore mine, in the summer of 1992.

"They were beaten and tortured. In the morning their bodies would be lying all around here on the grass."

Like hundreds of other Muslims and Croats from the area around the town of Prijedor he was rounded up by Bosnian Serb soldiers at the start of the war and sent to the Omarska camp.

"How could they do this?" Muharem asks. "Neighbours, former school friends and work colleagues. I don't understand."

But on the 10th anniversary of the Dayton peace deal which ended the war, there are glimmers of hope here at Omarska.

Proof of change

Before and after images of the Bosnian war

A memorial is to be built to the victims of the camp. But what is different about this memorial is that, for the first time, members of all three communities - Muslims, Croats and Serbs - are involved in the design of the project.

"This is a mainly Serb area, but young Serbs have got involved in the project," says the Reverend Donald Reeves, from Soul of Europe, a British charity that has been encouraging the reconciliation process in Bosnia.

"They say we have to deal with this because our future is here. They don't want to be driven out and feel that this place has no soul to it, no spirit, no heart. They feel justice has to be done."

Zoran Ergarac, a local Serb teacher who has been involved in the memorial designs, says it is time to face the past.

"There were many people who said Bosnia will remain divided and that we are doomed to our ethnic clans and divisions, but this memorial site will prove that we are able to put our differences aside," he says.

Hopeful sign

Not everyone is happy with the memorial plans.

One worker at the iron mine told me it was not an appropriate place for a memorial because it was a working environment. He described the plans as a "provocation".

But the iron ore mine at Omarska is working again, recently bought by the world's biggest steel company Mittal Steel.

Muharem Murselovic
Muharem Murselovic is haunted by chilling memories
In a few months construction of the memorial, which will be based in and around the White House, should begin.

The fact that the project has got this far, and with the involvement of local Serbs, shows how much Bosnia-Hercegovina has moved on from those dark days.

A decade after the war ended there is peace in Bosnia.

Many refugees have returned home, there is freedom of movement across the country and the international community has done much to bring former foes together.

Some of those accused of crimes at Omarska, and other camps, have been jailed.

Milomir Stakic, the former mayor of Prijedor, was jailed for life for organising the setting up of detention centres in the region. Other cases are pending.

Full reconciliation is a long way off - but what is being achieved at Omarska is a sign of what can be done.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the site of the former prison camp in Omarska in Bosnia



SEE ALSO:
Analysis: Serb surrender surge
29 Apr 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
22 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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