SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – A survivor of the Srebrenica massacre has spent 15 years recovering the bones of victims from streams, forests and trails around the Bosnian town.
Ramiz Nukic told EFE that he finds remains “everywhere” from the genocide in July 1995, the worst since World War II.
Standing in front of his house in the village of Kamenice, the 57-year-old farm worker, a survivor of the atrocities carried out by Bosnian Serb troops, said he has found 270 skeletons or parts of corpses.
They belong to some of the 8,000 men and boys, who were killed as they tried to flee the Muslim town after its capture by Serb troops during the Bosnian War.
Nukic’s search began 15 years ago, when he set out to find the remains of his murdered father, two brothers and uncle.
The last time he saw them was on July 10, 1995 on the eve of the massacre, when they escaped from the city in a desperate bid to reach territories controlled by the Bosnian Muslim army.
“You walk and you do not know if you are going to arrive alive,” he said.
“As I walked, I did not think of myself but my family, my wife and three children, who had gone to the UN base in Potocari (near Srebrenica). My oldest son was eleven years old.”
He had promised himself that he would take his own life if he did not reach the free territory, in Nezuk, about 100 km from Susnjar, a suburb of Srebrenica, where he had fled from.
Nukic walked a week without eating anything and drank only water. He was later reunited with his family and returned to his home in Kamenice in 2001.
“I found the first skeleton here, in my yard,” he said.
He decided to look for the remains of his father and his brothers in the surrounding paths and forest. He remembered where they had parted that night when they were shot in an ambush.
“Here I was born, I grew up, I know every path that I walked,” Nukic said.
“I’ve seen bones, many objects, but I could not recognize anyone.”
Whenever he makes a discovery he contacts Bosnia’s Institute for Missing Persons, which identifies the remains.
“This is how I started and still today I find bones,” he added.
He said that he explores “everywhere, streams, places you cannot imagine” and added: “There is no place where there were no bones.
“All the corpses are on the surface, nobody was buried.”
Nukic did not find the remains of his relatives, they were unearthed in a mass grave near Zvornik and buried in the Potocari memorial center with the other victims of Srebrenica.
In his search he recovered not only bones but also objects that belonged to the victims, which he has handed over to the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995 in Sarajevo.
“I have found all kinds of things. Clothes, shoes, tobacco packets, shaving sets, watches, combs, a lot of documents, notebooks, and other papers that are difficult to decipher because the paper is faded, damaged,” he said.
“I’m not interested in objects ... My goal is to find bones,” he added.
The 24th anniversary of the genocide will be commemorated on Thursday and another 33 victims will finally be laid to rest at the Potocari memorial center.
The youngest of them is a 16-year-old boy and the oldest an 82-year-old woman.
Potocari now houses the remains of 6,610 people.
There are also 140 victims who have been identified by DNA analysis but their relatives do not want them to be buried yet because their bodies are incomplete.
The remains of more than 1,000 victims are still unaccounted for.
Ratko Mladic, a former military commander who was in charge of the Serb troops who carried out the massacre, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide.
Former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic received the same sentence for Srebrenica and other crimes committed during the war, 1992-1995, between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats.
Thousands of people come to Srebrenica every year on July 11 to pay tribute to the victims.
The next day, the town, which is still trying to recover the normality it had before the war, returns to its daily life.
Before the conflict it had 35,000 inhabitants but many of its refugees did not return and the current population is around 13,500, 54 percent Muslim and the rest Serbs.