Finding the bodies to fill the Bosnia graves

THE first floor room is heated and brightly lit. Endless rows of tables stretch away - on each one is laid out the component parts of individual skeletons, all of which bear the residual signs of violence.

There are 206 bones in the human body. On a surface in front of us nearly all them are present, belonging to one individual. He was once someone's husband, brother, uncle, son. The room is a terrible visual reminder of what mass death and genocide mean in real human terms. These are the bodies of victims of the Bosnian war - the Srebrenica massacre and the numerous other horrors committed that bear no name but yielded many victims. Scotsman Adam Boys has overall charge of reuniting them with their families.

The first time Mr Boys drove from Sarajevo to Tuzla, through the devastated and flaming heartland of the Bosnian civil war, it was 1994 and he was 27, sitting at the wheel of a lorry delivering emergency food aid to children.

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Twelve years later, the highly personable former chartered accountant from Glasgow is in a smart dark business suit, sporting natty cuff-links emblazoned with the Saltire, and steering a powerful Nissan 4x4 at high speed through the same Bosnian mountain gorges.

The hellish war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia from 1992-5 has been over for 11 years now and, simply put, Mr Boys manages an organisation that picks up the pieces and tries to put the past to bed.

The International Commission on Missing Persons, or ICMP, is a 170-strong outfit that attempts to find, identify, exhume and piece back together as many as possible of the estimated 30,000 people missing after the Bosnian conflict.

ICMP is widely regarded as the world's leading investigative forensic body, revolutionising victim tracing and identification from Bosnia to the Asian tsunami, and from the smoking ruins of Ground Zero to the killing fields of Kosovo.

With annual operating costs of 4.3 million for 2007, ICMP is donor-funded by countries including the United States, Britain and Canada. Despite further funding in the last few weeks by Saudi Arabia and Canada - the latter gave over 500,000- it is crucial that aid continues if ICMP is to complete its task.

Three letters and two words lie at the core of their work. DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid. This is the substance that contains the genetic instructions for the development and functioning of living organisms, whose genome is often compared to a set of blueprints.

After a two-and-a-half hour journey, we are standing on the first floor of a funeral home outside the north-eastern Bosnian town of Tuzla, observing just what DNA technology actually means for ICMP, the people of Bosnia and the world at large.

"This could not have been done without DNA," says Canadian forensic anthropologist Cheryl Kazalik of ICMP's tracing process, holding up a human skull from one of dozens of steel trays spread across the room.

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Each bears different parts of a dried skeleton of a human being, and each skeleton tends to bear the evidence of the extreme violence visited upon.

This is not surprising. Many of the skeletons spread out in the warm heat of the room are those of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the mass killing in eastern Bosnia that stands as Europe's worst war-crime since 1945.

"The idea," says Ms Kazalik, replacing the skull, "is to provide the family with as much of their loved one as possible."

ICMP has so far exhumed and pieced back together some 11,000 of Bosnia's 30,000 victims, including some 4,000 of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

This has not just enabled the families of the victims to give their missing relatives a proper burial, but has also provided crucial evidence and proof in the international and local judicial efforts to bring the perpetrators of Bosnia's massacres to justice.

"ICMP has revolutionised the search for the truth in the modern post-conflict world," says half-British, half-Bosnian journalist and war-crimes investigator Nerma Jelacic, based in Sarajevo.

"ICMP is the most effective international community initiative I have seen in Bosnia," says Mr Boys, after we leave the ICMP Reassociation Centre an hour later.

Born and educated in Glasgow, he studied anthropology at Edinburgh University and then chartered accountancy in London.

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"I had ended up auditing trust hospitals on the Ayrshire coast," he said. "I was crying in the loos, so boring was the job."

Then he found himself at a party listening to an English woman's account of working in a Bosnian refugee camp. Months later, he was at the wheel of a lorry driving through the hell of ethnic cleansing in central Bosnia, delivering aid for Feed The Children.

"The war was dangerous, exciting, hard-drinking," he says, "But after a few months just bloody miserable."

A bad car crash injured his back, and after a spell recuperating in the UK, he found himself back in Bosnia working in Niksic.

By November 1994 he had met and then married Rada, a Serb woman who is the mother of Boy's twin daughters, Katya and Natasha, born in 1999.

ICMP was established at the G7 Summit in Lyons in 1996 with 20 staff and just grew.

"The problem of the missing has been one of the legacies of modern conflict" says Boys

arrive at the ICMP's so-called "Super Mortuary."

The world's largest storage facility for human remains, it holds parts of an estimated 4,000 bodies in a temperature-controlled hangar.

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The facility was designed and built by American Kathryne Bomberger who is ICMP's senior manager, and Adam Boys live-in partner at home in Sarajevo.

He split with Rada in 2003, and met Bomberger in Bosnia in 2004.

He stands by a metal table and watches as a Canadian forensic anthropologist runs through a description of the human skeleton stretched out in front of her.

The skull has been smashed by a Kalashnikov bullet in an execution-style killing, not surprisingly since the corpse was excavated from one of the mass graves containing Srebrenica victims. The muddy bullet lies tidily among the rows of bones.

"Primarily, we must stop the denial that Srebrenica happened," says Boys, as we walk around the mortuary, chill in the afternoon light.

"And thus stop the centuries of denial that thus provide motivation for another war."


• The number of people unaccounted for at war's end in Bosnia in 1995: 30,000

• Total number of DNA-assisted identifications made from the former Yugoslavia: 11,400

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• Total number of DNA-assisted identifications made from Bosnia: 9,000 plus

• Total number of DNA-assisted ID's made from Srebrenica: 4,000 plus

• Total number of persons identified (cases closed) from Srebrenica: 2,600 plus

• Highest number of DNA match reports in one day: 60, of which 43 were of different individuals and out of which 20 were victims of the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

• Difference between number of identifications before and after DNA assistance in regards to Srebrenica: In 2001, the number of official Identifications was 52, after the first DNA blind match was made on 16 November that year. In 2002, 518 official identifications were made.

• Total number of ICMP staff: 170

• Total number of mass grave exhumations ICMP has assisted with: hundreds

• The total number of ICMP sites under investigation in 2006 was 153