Bosnians see victims excavated from mass grave

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Bosnian woman Denisa Hegic reacts as she enters at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Denisa Hegic was eight when Serb soldiers stormed her house and killed her entire family at the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. An aunt pulled her away from her mother’s bloody body and they tried to run away, were caught but escaped again. After 22 years, Hegic reunited with her family on Wednesday at the freezing mortuary where the remains of hundreds of Muslim Bosniaks killed during the Bosnain Serb ethnic killings campaign are stored after they were excavated from Bosnia’s biggest mass grave. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Bosnian woman Denisa Hegic reacts as she enters at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Denisa Hegic was eight when Serb soldiers stormed her house and killed her entire family at the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. An aunt pulled her away from her mother’s bloody body and they tried to run away, were caught but escaped again. After 22 years, Hegic reunited with her family on Wednesday at the freezing mortuary where the remains of hundreds of Muslim Bosniaks killed during the Bosnain Serb ethnic killings campaign are stored after they were excavated from Bosnia’s biggest mass grave. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Bosnian woman Denisa Hegic hugs her husband as she enters at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Denisa Hegic was eight when Serb soldiers stormed her house and killed her entire family at the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. An aunt pulled her away from her mother’s bloody body and they tried to run away, were caught but escaped again. After 22 years, Hegic reunited with her family on Wednesday at the freezing mortuary where the remains of hundreds of Muslim Bosniaks killed during the Bosnain Serb ethnic killings campaign are stored after they were excavated from Bosnia’s biggest mass grave.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Bosnian woman Denisa Hegic reacts as she enters at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Denisa Hegic was eight when Serb soldiers stormed her house and killed her entire family at the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. An aunt pulled her away from her mother’s bloody body and they tried to run away, were caught but escaped again. After 22 years, Hegic reunited with her family on Wednesday at the freezing mortuary where the remains of hundreds of Muslim Bosniaks killed during the Bosnain Serb ethnic killings campaign are stored after they were excavated from Bosnia’s biggest mass grave.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Bosnian technical worker Zlatan Music inspects the personal belongings of victims whose bodies were exhumed from the Tomasica mass grave at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Bosnian technical worker Zlatan Music inspects the personal belongings of victims whose bodies were exhumed from the Tomasica mass grave at the Sejkovaca identification center, near the Bosnian town of Sanski Most, 260 kilometers (162 miles) northwest of Sarajevo ,on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

SEJKOVACA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – Denisa Hegic pulled her scarf around her nose to guard against the stench, and drew back the plastic shroud. Shaking, she reached down to touch her mother’s skull, and caressed it.

The last time she touched her mother she was bleeding on the floor of the family home, slain by Bosnian Serb soldiers storming their tiny village in northwestern Bosnia. On Wednesday, mother and daughter were reunited in a cavernous building used to house the remains of victims newly excavated from the mass grave in Tomasica, 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of Sarajevo.

“I found her body,” she said.

Hegic’s experience is being repeated this week by many survivors of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, as experts begin allowing families to view the remains meticulously pulled from the earth and identified through DNA analysis. Hundreds of families are expected to make the sad pilgrimage to see the dead.

So far, 430 victims were found in the Tomasica grave, a vast pit 10 meters (about 30 feet) deep and covering 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet). The pit contains victims of Bosnian Serb military units who killed Muslim Bosniaks and Roman Catholic Croats in hopes of creating an ethnically pure region.

Many believe more people were originally buried there. Diaries confiscated from former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic suggest that some of the bodies in the Tomasica pit were dug up and moved, which now complicates efforts to identify the dead.

But some progress has been made. Family members coming to view remains are also offering statements to local prosecutors to assist in efforts to prosecute Mladic, who is being tried on war crimes charges at the U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands. The war crimes tribunal has sentenced 16 Bosnian Serbs to a total of 230 years for the crimes committed in the closest town, Prijedor, but no one has yet been held responsible for the killings in Hegic’s village.

On July 20th, 1992, when Hegic was 8, people in the tiny village of Biscani heard the Bosnian Serbs were coming. Her parents hid their only child in the basement. When the soldiers came, they shot her mother, her father, her grandparents, her three uncles and her three cousins.

An aunt pulled her away from mother’s bloody body.

“My aunt was there with my mother, but she managed to escape and took me with her,” Hegic said, her green eyes misty and red as she recalled the day.

They

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