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Latest update : 2014-04-21

In Prijedor, survivors fight to keep memory alive

Twenty years after the end of the war that tore the former Yugoslavia apart, Bosnia-Herzegovina is still unearthing its dead. Last September, one of the biggest mass graves was discovered near Prijedor, in the north-west of the country. Over 400 bodies were exhumed, and the search for more is far from over. Our reporters returned to the scene.

Prijedor. The name has often been forgotten, unlike that of Srebrenica, the martyr town where nearly 8,000 Bosniaks were massacred by Serb militia in July 1995, under the eyes of UN peacekeepers.

And yet, between April and August 1992, Serb paramilitaries engaged in a vast "ethnic cleansing" operation detained over 30,000 people, mostly Bosniaks, in camps at  Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm. Most were deported to Bosnian regions but thousands died in the camps. More than 3,000 are still missing. Before the war, Serbs were a minority in Prijedor. They now account for nearly 90 percent of the population.

The discovery of the Prijedor mass grave has revived the trauma of a war that local authorities work hard to ignore. Physical traces of the conflict have been carefully erased: the Omarska detention camp is once again a mine (operated by Arcelor Mittal), the Trnopolje one now houses a school and Keraterm has been turned into a car wash...

There is no public memorial  to the Bosniak war victims. But an eagle-shaped statue of Serbia (pictured), erected in front of the former Trnopolje camp, celebrates the "Serb soldiers who contributed to the building of the nation".

In a region where Serbian nationalism asserts itself strongly, where children and young adults are kept in ignorance of the conflict and where governments cultivate denial, how do Serbian and Bosniak communities manage to co-exist? We went to ask them.

By Séverine BARDON

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