Genocide Without Corpses

IN THE HILLS OUTSIDE SREBRENICA, winter's onset has forced United Nations war-crimes investigators to lay down their shovels. When the ground thaws next spring they will resume the job of exhuming mass graves and trying to identify the remains of Muslims who were murdered in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb troops allegedly carried out Europe's deadliest atrocity since the end of the Third Reich. The International Committee of the Red Cross lists more than 6,600 Muslim men and women as missing since the Srebrenica massacre. The Bosnian government puts the number at 10,300. Yet after nine months of searching and digging, fewer than 750 corpses have been found. Why so few? The Bosnian Serb leadership says the bodies are scarce because the massacre was wildly exaggerated. The U.N. investigators are convinced they're lying. Evidence collected so far suggests that the Serbs have compounded their crimes against humanity with a massive cover-up to bury the truth. NEWSWEEK examines what the mass graves have revealed.

Sahanici: At this site, also called Lazete, investigators expected to find 800 bodies, based on the testimony of survivors and an examination of U.S. satellite photos. The grave yielded the remains of 160 victims. But the ground had been freshly disturbed when the U.N. team arrived there in April to begin digging. David Rohde, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for finding the grave late last year, says the soil there was ""flat and hard'' on his first visit. When he returned to the site in April, it had become a plowed-up mess of mud and green but half-buried sod. Fresh tire tracks led from the site. Investigators are sure some bodies were removed beforehand. ""We have several bags of extra limbs and other body parts,'' says Dr. Robert Kirschner, a forensic specialist who worked with the U.N. team. ""The fact that we found parts of bodies indicates there has been tampering.'' The war-crimes tribunal's sleuths say the missing corpses may have been reburied in a railway tunnel nearby. They plan to check it out next spring.

Pilica: Drazen Erdemovic, a confessed Serb executioner, testified to the Hague tribunal that roughly 1,200 Muslims died here on July 16, 1995. The U.N. team found only 200 bodies, along with miscellaneous unmatched limbs and appendages. U.S. satellite photos made the day after the killings show bodies and earthmoving equipment at the site. The equipment returned three months later. About the same time the satellites spotted activity at a nearby aluminum plant that had been shut down. The factory's former manager, a Muslim now living in Tuzla, says the plant had 62 vats of sodium hydroxide, a highly caustic chemical used in turning bauxite ore into aluminum. Kirschner says industrial quantities of sodium hydroxide could be used to dissolve human corpses. ""It would probably leave a big sludge, but it would definitely destroy soft tissue and hair.''

Nova Kasaba: Roughly 600 Srebrenica men were thought to have been buried in four graves after being executed on a roadside during the night of July 13, 1995. According to Dutch troops who were in the area that night, the gunfire, squeezed off one shot at a time, continued for more than two hours. Two of the graves have been exhumed now, but they held only 33 bodies. The team has discovered no signs of tampering, either from satellite pictures or from evidence on the ground. The two untouched graves don't look much bigger than the two that have been dug up. Investigators can't say why more bodies haven't been unearthed here.

Karakaj Dam and Glogova: The two sites, neither of which has been excavated yet, could contain more than 1,000 victims. Although survivors of the mass execution at the dam say the bodies were trucked away to an unknown destination, U.S. intelligence spotted heavy equipment working at the dam a few days afterward. Test probes in the soil have found human bone fragments, but they were scattered in a way suggesting that the graves have been disturbed. Satellite photos from Glogova show new excavations taking place three months after the grave there was first dug on July 27, 1995. Investigators say they believe that bodies from Glogova were moved to another location just south of Srebrenica where three new mounds of earth have been discovered. The teams will go back next spring to find out. They can only hope they won't be beaten by the war criminals who live there year-round.