by Irham Ceco
August 22, 2000: The name of the ravine is Propast [downfall]. In spite of an eerie name, Paklenik [hell] is an absolutely ordinary grove, which has been hiding horrors for eight years. The number and the names of the victims are still not known. N.N., a witness for the Hague Tribunal has survived the June 15 execution. On that day, Bosniaks from the Visegrad region, villages of Gornji and Donji Dubovik, Velatovo, Zagre, Smijece, Zupa and Dobrun were executed together with him. There were other crimes in Paklenik. The murderers tried to hide the evidence by throwing in soil, stones, dead animals, and animal bones. However, the horror of the truth is beginning to resurface under the detritus. The Commission for War Crimes is preparing for another workday. A tall, middle-aged man with dark Ray Ban sunglasses that he puts on and takes off without an obvious reason, greets Amir Masovic. He warns him that the equipment holding stones taken off the corpses in the ravine is weak and that it should be strengthened. He makes a list of the present individuals and the Dani team. He introduces himself: "Milos Renovica, crime inspector, the Serb Sarajevo Police Station." Colleagues from the BBC want to know what the list is for. "We keep track of visitors, to make sure there is no abuse." The Republic of Srpska (RS) Police is providing security at the crime scene, as well as the members of the Italian SFOR, who are watching the ravine and securing the unpaved approach road.
Sarajevan Nermina Sacic also descends in the ravine. She is an assistant at the Faculty of Political Sciences. "My mother is from Visegrad and 14 of my missing relatives are most likely down there." She will try to recognize her uncle Muharem Zukic by a track suit he put on under his trousers to protect himself from blows if beaten. "If I find the uncle, it will be perhaps easier. It's not much easier, but it is after all somewhat different if you can go to a grave of your loved ones, if nothing else," says Nermina after coming back from the ravine, and continues: "I did not imagine that it would be like this. I don't know if anyone can actually imagine this at all, but there are a lot of animal bones down there. It is slippery, there are corpses everywhere. Those wires, they were killed in a bestial manner. Hopefully the criminals will face some sort of justice, their names are known, thank God, and there are survivors."
Photographs of two bodies found in remains of a track-suit will be examined by the relatives. That could be the first identification. The clothing of other discovered victims will be washed for easier identification, once the exhumation is over. Besides soil, a lot of stones have been thrown in the ravine, so that the clothing decomposed slowly. Next to a corpse the team found remnants of money, German Marks. The paper has decomposed, but the plastic threads are still there.
At the bottom of the ladder, at first step we see a corpse. A green sweater, a handful of bones. On the right, a plank wall and a pile of already removed stones and soil. A chain of workers is removing a bucket by bucket of dug up stones and soil, layer by layer revealing the truth. The truth is horror. On the left side, which had been somewhat cleared, a small yellow flag with number seven has been stuck into the ground next to every corpse. Deeper to the left, the ravine has another part curving upward. At the top, separated from others, a barefoot human corpse. Next to him a skeleton of a fox and a pair of mismatched shoes. "He probably remained alive for a while after the shooting and tried to get out. He perhaps pulled the shoes after him. The fox probably smelled something and fell in the ravine," clarifies Masovic. The wrists of the victim are tied by rough, construction wire. It is possible to recognize a bluish-white checkered summer shirt.
There is a mound in the middle. The court pathologists are doing the more sensitive part of the job, clearing bones and clothing with their instruments. "Do not ask much, the investigation is going on," a swarthy pathologist responds with a wry smile to a "technical" question from the journalists. He is busy carefully removing soil. "Here is another skull, give us a bag!" There aren't any bags of the appropriate size at the moment. But there are skulls and many of them are separated from the bodies and frequently roll away towards the bottom. However, it is important to find the vertebra next to the skull for easier completion of a mosaic.
One pathologist exclaims: "Here, we have a name!" He carefully cleans an opened wallet. "Is there a personal identification card?" asks a special policeman. "No, a check book, from the Post Bank Belgrade. But the man is hundred percent a Muslim!" The name on the discovered document: Esref Muhic.
Around noon there is a blackout and the ravine is again dark, as it has been during the last eight years of hiding the truth about the crime.
Back to the surface, step by step. While the special policemen are boiling a soup, we talk with Dr. Nermin Sarajlic, a resident at the Sarajevo Institute for Forensic Medicine. Dr. Sarajlic has been doing this work for two years. What is it like? "It depends on many factors. It is necessary to call a job a job, to be professional, and work as well as possible. Sometimes it is physically demanding, but one always has to suppress some personal feelings." Is that feasible? "No, it is not," replies the physician, and after a short pause continues quietly: "Journalists can write all sorts of things, but there are no words for those feelings. Perhaps someone who would spend more time with us would understand. But we have to continue, for the sake of the families of those people, for the sake of the truth and facts. It is important that all of us do our part of the job as well as we can, just like these guys, special policemen, who prepare everything for us. Just like Eva, you saw how she works."
The special policemen use the break to fantasize about excursions to the Prenj mountain, unused vacations, and prepare for the rest of the workday. All of them are returning to the ravine, and the Dani team back to Sarajevo. Through Sokolac forests that hid the crime for eight years and probably still hide those who ordered this crime, Mladic and Karadzic. Somewhere around here, probably live the witnesses. Quieter than the victims.