Regional co-operation is the only way to resolve the issue of missing persons in the region, experts say.
By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 28/01/14
Kosovo families gather at the site of a mass grave in Raska, Serbia, on December 28th 2013, where the bodies of their relatives are thought to be buried. [AFP]
With thousands of people still missing from the 1990s conflicts in the region, countries in Southeast Europe must be diligent in their co-operation to solve the issue, experts said.
According to the International Commission for Missing Persons, there are still more than 14,000 people unaccounted for from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Of the approximately 40,000 total missing in the region after the conflicts, an estimated 30,000 were from BiH, 5,500 from Croatia, 4,400 from Kosovo and 23 from Macedonia. Of those still missing, approximately 10,000 are from BiH, 2,000 from Croatia, 1,900 from Kosovo and 13 from Macedonia.
Kathryne Bomberger, the director general of the International Commission for Missing Persons, said that finding and identifying those still missing is complicated because the conflicts took place when there were no borders in the region.
"We have often had cases where the remains of people from Bosnia and Herzegovina were in the territory of Serbia, Croatians disappeared from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbians on Croatian territory and the like. One of the ways to solve these issues is a good regional co-operation and that is at a very high level," Bomberger said.
The governments in the region must remain vigilant in their efforts to account for the missing regardless of their ethnic, religious or national origin in a transparent and accountable manner, she added.
Co-operation efforts include following a joint road map on proceedings, information sharing, a mutual DNA database and common methodology and transparency in exhuming mass graves.
Kosovo and Serbia have also been co-operating on the issue.
A gravesite in Raska, Serbia, was opened last month, in which the bodies of 250 Albanians are believed to be buried.
The investigation leading to the discovery was a joint effort by Kosovo, Serbia and EULEX.
Officials from Kosovo and Serbia are expected to meet soon to discuss how to proceed with further excavations.
"We have had cases of direct co-operation in order to accelerate the procedures, but due to the political circumstances, this co-operation remains within a non-formal format," Kushtrim Gara, who leads the administrative unit of the Kosovo Commission for Missing Persons, told SETimes.
Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said his government is committed to solving the issue.
"The search for the missing will continue until light is shed on each and every crime," he said.
However, some say more action needs to be taken.
"Great progress has been made, but it still not enough to bring peace to the families of the missing," Lejla Cengic, a spokesperson for the Institute for Missing Persons in BiH, told SETimes.
She said that a central register of missing persons would help accelerate the process.
"A regional list of missing persons is one of the most important issues for the future. This year has been declared the year of missing persons in all countries of the region in order to speed up the process of finding those who are still missing," Cengic said.
The co-operation agreement that was presented at a December 2011 meeting between the Missing Persons Institute of BiH, the Directorate for Detained and Missing in Croatia and the Commission for Missing Persons in Serbia, has yet to be signed.
"We are missing co-operation on a political level. Signing the co-operation agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia would mean supporting the engagement of police and military records of all countries. This will enhance the joint exhumation process and lead to the resolution of an even greater number of missing persons in the region," Amor Masovic, a member of the Institute for Missing Persons in BiH board of directors, told SETimes.
The EU praised the co-operative efforts.
"Globally, this is an unprecedented achievement. Nowhere in the world after a conflict have so many missing persons been located and identified. This is a joint success for the families of missing, local authorities and the international community," said Peter Sorensen, EU special representative in BiH.
Correspondent Linda Karadaku in Pristina contributed to this report.
What sort of co-operative efforts would help find and identify those who are still missing from the 1990s conflicts? Add your thoughts below.