According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, 14,000 people remain unaccounted for after the former Yugoslav conflicts.
By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 24/05/12
The names of missing people, both Albanians and Serbs, were written on a wall by a human rights NGO in Pristina. There are still more than 1,700 people missing from the Kosovo conflict. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
Thousands of people are still missing from the conflicts that followed the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s -- a situation that is hindering the healing process for families, as well as the resolution process between regional countries.
Bekim Blakaj, executive director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Kosovo, said that the missing persons issue is one of the main barriers to reconciliation.
"In most cases, the families of the missing persons are convinced that the other community, Serb or Albanian, knows where the bodies of their loved ones are and do not want to give that evidence … therefore they see the other community as an enemy," Blakaj told SETimes.
According to EULEX, there are still 1,781 people missing from the Kosovo conflict.
Last week, the Kosovo parliament approved a motion asking the government to condition the future talks between Pristina and Belgrade with the issue of these missing persons.
Since the missing person issue is one of issues opened by the Belgrade negotiation team, it has a high level of importance. Talks on the issue will likely be started and supported by Brussels as well.
"We have not found a mechanism that will enable more efficient finding of missing persons, and this is what we insist on. All missing persons must be found," Belgrade negotiating team head Borislav Stefanovic told SETimes.
The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) said in April that more than 70% of the missing persons in the region have now been accounted for.
"This is a unique achievement in a post-conflict situation and owes as much to the dedication of missing persons commissions in the region as it does to the international community's assistance," Adam Boys, ICMP's Western Balkans programme director, said.
According to the commission's figures, there were 40,000 persons missing and presumed dead after the cessation of the conflicts in the former Yugoslav countries. "Of this number, an estimated 14,000 remain unaccounted for," according to the ICMP.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), there are 9,022 open cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 2,337 in Croatia.
The ICRC does not break down the list of missing persons by ethnicity, since it addresses the issue of missing persons as a whole.
"Behind each [person] there is a family still waiting for an answer on their fate and whereabouts," Lina Milner, chairperson of the ICRC Working group on Missing Persons in Kosovo, told SETimes.
She added that over the past year, authorities in Belgrade and Pristina have continued their efforts to account for missing persons in accordance with their commitments taken within the ICRC chaired Working Group, but the commission is very concerned about the slow pace of the process.
EULEX chief Xavier de Marchac said in April that more than 30 potential sites will be assessed this year, and local authorities will begin an investigation into possible misidentifications.
Sheremet Ademi, who is still missing a family member from Mitrovica, says the solution would have a positive impact on reconciliation. "But the experience of the past shows that if those who committed the acts are not punished, then what happened before can be repeated," Ademi told SETimes.