Authorities in Bosnia and Serbia said Tuesday they had recovered the skeletal remains of at least 97 people from the banks of a border lake that was partially drained this summer for maintenance.
Officials from the Bosnian and Serbian Commissions for Missing Persons said 372 bone fragments were found on the Bosnian bank of Perucac lake and 79 on the Serbian side.
By counting the right femurs recovered, experts determined the bones belonged to at least 97 people — victims primarily of the wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. But authorities said only DNA analysis will reveal the total number and identities of the dead.
Most were killed by Serbs in the nearby town of Visegrad at the start of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
But on the Serbian side experts found the remains of what they presume to be 11 Albanians killed during the Kosovo war in 1998-1999.
Some 1,000 people went missing in and around Visegrad — almost all of them Bosnian Muslims who were killed and thrown from a bridge over the Drina river.
Their bodies lodged in the banks of the artificial lake, a dammed section of the Drina, a few kilometres (miles) downstream.
“We presume that at least one-third of the missing will be found this way but the chances are minimal that the others who ended up in the Drina river will ever be recovered,” said the head of the Bosnian Commission for Missing Persons, Amor Masovic. The lake’s water level is lowered for maintenance every 30 years.
The killings in Visegrad were so frequent and so numerous that the management of the hydroelectric plant across the border in Serbia appealed in 1992 over the radio for whoever in Bosnia was responsible to stop throwing bodies into the lake because they were clogging up the dam’s culverts.
Now, 18 years later, experts from the two countries are looking for the remains together.
Authorities in Serbia postponed refilling the lake long after maintenance was done to allow more bodies to be recovered.
“I’m convinced that revealing the fate of the missing is one of the most important issues — key to reconciliation in the region,” said the head of the Serbian Commission, Veljko Odalovic.
The ability of the two commissions to work together shows how mature those institutions have now become, said Adam Boys, deputy head of the International Commission for Missing Persons, which conducts DNA identification of the remains.
The experts also found remains not related to the Bosnian war, including six officers of the Austro-Hungarian army who were buried in their uniforms, decorated with medals, in graves that were flooded when the lake was formed.
The 11 Albanians that were found on the Serbian side were most likely killed by Serbian forces during the Kosovo war.
“We don’t know whether they were alive when they were thrown in,” Boys said.
Hundreds of volunteers helped experts look for bones over the two months of the search.