Newly discovered mass grave is reminder of painful search for Croatia's missing

·2 min read

VUKOVAR, Croatia (Reuters) - The discovery of a mass grave near Croatia's eastern town of Vukovar with the remains of at least 11 bodies is a painful reminder of how many people are still unaccounted for almost three decades after the country's independence war ended in 1995.

Last month, investigators discovered the grave close to a wood off the road linking the towns of Vukovar and Vinkovci. Work on the site is still going on as two thirds of some 15,000 square metres have yet to be searched through.

"We believe we will soon have the identification procedure completed for those 11 people," said Ivona Paltrinieri, who heads the department for missing people in the war veterans ministry.

The site near the village of Bobota is the 151st mass grave found in Croatia. Out of 5,204 exhumed bodies, some 4,300 people have been identified.

"For our identification method, based on a DNA analysis, we keep DNA data of about 10,000 people who seek their missing relatives. We have so far identified around 83% of the exhumed people," said Milovan Kubat, an expert at the Zagreb forensic identification centre.

According to official data, Croatia is still trying to establish the fate of 1,852 missing people.

Marija Sestan from Vukovar, which was reduced to rubble by Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary units after a three-month siege in late 1991, is searching for her son Tomislav who was 21-years-old when he went missing.

"He was captured on Nov. 19, 1991. The last information I have about him is that he was taken by bus to nearby Borovo Selo. You can imagine how it is to wake up each day for 30 years hoping it would be a day when you might get some indication about what happened to him," she said.

Paltrinieri said the investigators were facing two major obstacles when trying to locate the sites of mass graves.

"In the last five years we investigated 264 locations and the success is at around 20%. A huge problem is that we don't receive concrete information from Serbia which would enable us locate the sites with more precision," she said.

Also, some tips and information received from individuals turn out to be misleading, she said.

According to the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), some 11,000 people are still unaccounted for from the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s which broke out as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into separate entities in the 1990s. Most are in Bosnia.

(This story refiles to change pronoun in para 7)

(Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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