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Bosnian War casualties still disputed more than a decade on

Published time: November 17, 2009 10:24
Edited time: November 17, 2009 10:24

It has been nearly fourteen years since the end of the Bosnian War. However, both sides are still fighting, but this time over numbers – the numbers of those who died during the conflict.

The savage conflict of 1992-1995 left Bosnia and Herzegovina split down ethnic lines, forming Muslim and Serb halves. Since the fighting there has yet been little sign of reconciliation.

Streten Damjanovic is Serb. In 1992 he was captured by Muslim fighters. He still struggles to breathe, let alone walk, from the torture and beatings he received.

At the time he was a soldier with the Serb Republic Army, and the war between Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina was just beginning.

“They took me towards an apple tree, there was a noose there. They wanted to hang me. They would put the noose on, they would lift me, and then take me down,” Damjanovic remembered.

On the other side of the conflict there is Mejra Dogaz, a Muslim. She lives alone, as the rest of her family was buried at the Srebrenica graveyard. Her husband, three sons, and grandson all rest there after being shot by Serb forces during the same war.

“I lost everything. Three generations wiped out in one day, but I cannot bury myself,” she said. “If I could I would climb into the ground to be with my family.”

Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of the Serb minority region Republika Srpska, recently threatened to break away. His remark sparked international fears that the country could descend into chaos again.

The tensions are fuelled by ongoing allegations of what happened in the nineties and, specifically, how many died on either side.

Amor Masovic heads the Bosnian Federation Commission for Missing Persons. He has the names of nearly 30,000 Muslims who went missing during the war.

More than eight thousand of them were from Srebrenica, the scene of the biggest massacre on European soil since World War Two.

“There are plenty more graves that have not yet been opened,” he said. “The number of missing people is likely to be higher because we are basing it on names people have given us. But in some instances whole families were wiped out.”

“Yes, sometimes there are mistakes and it is possible some of the dead names are still alive, but this was war and there was a lot of confusion,” he added.

Some Serbs say the numbers are exaggerated.

“Everybody forgets that there was a Srebrenica before Srebrenica,” said Radovan Pejic from the Team for the Research and Documentation of War Crimes. “I am talking about crimes against Serb civilians – more than 20 villages around Srebrenica, which were ethnically cleansed of Serbs from 1992 to 1995.”

“Yes, Muslims were killed there, but I would say the number is closer to three thousand,” Pejic added.

Radovan and his team have put together 3299 files of Serbs who were killed in Sarajevo. He says there are still many mass graves with Serb victims inside that have not yet been found.

Pejic is convinced the final count will show that more Serbs died in Sarajevo than Muslims in Srebrenica.

Regardless, the battle for numbers, like the battle for truth, does little to bring peace to this part of the world, where the scars of war have not yet had time to heal.

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