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Bosnia: Relatives Seek Bosnian Serbs Missing In Action

  • Jolyon Naegele

Banja Luka, Bosnian Serb Republic; 4 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of relatives of Bosnian Serb prisoners-of-war and missing soldiers marched silently through the center of the largest Bosnian Serb town, Banja Luka, yesterday.

Hoping to shed some light on the fate of their loved ones, a nine-member delegation of the relatives met Bosnian Serb Republic President Biljana Plavsic. It was the fifth time since February that the Association of Relatives of POW's and MIA's had met the Bosnian Serb leadership.

Meanwhile, as police watched impassively, some of the demonstrators waiting outside government house tore up stacks of camp posters of the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The posters featured color portraits of Plavsic and other leading SDS candidates, including the chairman of the Bosnian Serb Parliament, Momcilo Krajisnik, and Foreign Minister Aleksa Buha.

An international observer who witnessed the protest march said the demonstrators have little hope of ever seeing their loved ones. He says the overwhelming majority of the missing Bosnian Serb soldiers are dead, rather than in detention.

Association Chairman Branko Panic, whose third-year college student son is missing, says the shredding of SDS posters in Banja Luka's main square "has no political connotation whatsoever." Demonstrators are just angry at an SDS official, who Panic says emerged from the government building to distribute the posters to protesters.

The association is a non-governmental organization with 20,000 members, says Panic. Its goal is to free surviving Bosnian Serb prisoners-of-war held by Bosnian Muslim and Croat authorities and to excavate all mass grave sites, where Bosnian Serb soldiers are believed buried.

The association is concerned particularly with the fate of nearly 1,500 Bosnian Serb soldiers reported to have disappeared during the last three months of fighting in western Bosnia in August, September and October of last year.

About 1,200 bodies of Bosnian Serb soldiers are believed buried in 47 recognized mass graves on the territory of the Muslim-Croat Federation, says Panic. Most recently, he says, the association helped secure the excavation and transfer to Banja Luka two days ago of a further 20 bodies of Bosnian Serb soldiers from a mass grave at Glamoc in western Bosnia. He says that 107 bodies have been found in Glamoc, and that 45 have yet to be excavated.

The association demands the freedom of all prisoners of war: Serbs, Muslims and Croats. Panic says the association has held talks with various representatives of the international community in Bosnia, as well as with like-minded nongovernmental-organizations in the Muslim-Croat Federation, in Croatia and in the Yugoslav Federation (Serbia, Montenegro). These include: Women of Srebrenica, Mothers of Vukovar, The Association of Families of Yugoslav POW's, and The Mostar Cantonal (regional) Association of POW's.

The association leadership intends to meet other Bosnian Serb Republic leaders -- all prominent SDS members -- in Banja Luka tomorrow.