Many of the hundreds of bodies thought to be buried in two mass graves in this area may have been removed recently, officials close to the International War Crimes Tribunal said on Wednesday after a preliminary examination of the sites.
The investigators, in their first survey of the area, said that the digging was probably done within the last several weeks, according to the officials, who asked to remain anonymous. The extent of the digging indicated that some remains could have been removed, they said.
The victims are believed to be Muslim men captured and executed after Bosnian Serbs took Srebrenica, a U.N. safe area, last July.
The tribunal had understood that NATO forces would watch sites like this one and conduct aerial reconnaissance as they performed other duties, Christian Chartier, the tribunal spokesman, said. Chartier said that NATO has not reported any suspicious activity in the area.
The U.S. Army commander for the area, Col. John Baptiste, said on Wednesday that the area where the mass graves are believed to be was out of sight from the narrow road that cuts through this valley. “There’s no reason for my guys to get out of their vehicles and go over there to look for anything,” he said.
The tribunal investigators worked in near secrecy as they videotaped the suspected graves, which consist of two nearly contiguous sites.
The team of six moved to the larger field and dispersed. One man carrying a metal probe walked to the far corner of the field and began trying to force the probe into the ground. At first, he found it difficult to push into the hard, packed earth. Then, as he worked his way across the field, the probe began to go in more and more easily, indicating that the ground below had been recently turned and loosened.
As he worked, he often brought the end of the probe to his nose, to check for the smell of decomposition.
Even if some of the bodies have been removed from these two sites, a representative of the tribunal said there is almost certainly enough evidence to proceed with prosecution.
One of the goals of the tribunal is to establish who is responsible for war crimes like the massacre of the men of Srebrenica.
In the next village, Oraovac, in a coffee shop named “Amor,” people dismissed the idea that hundreds of Muslims could have been murdered and buried nearby.
“If there are bodies there, they are probably soldiers who died in combat,” said a man.