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Probing a Landscape of Death Volume 52 Number 6, November/December 1999
by Brenda Smiley

[image] Eva Klonowski digs the site of a mass grave at Lukavica, where former inmates of a nearby Serbian concentration camp told of being forced to bury 20 executed prisoners. (Brenda Smiley) [LARGER IMAGE]

The earth shows signs of having been spaded. A covering of spring green softens the rough clumps of dirt, in some places furrowed by the treads of armored personnel carriers. Within the ridges, tiny white flowers push through the soil. Eva Elvira Klonowski, in jeans and a T-shirt, dons rubber boots for the grim task ahead. It is my first day in the field with Eva. I ask her if she thinks we'll find bodies. "If they are there, I will find them," she replies. "I'm a tough cookie."

It is also the first day of digging at a suspected mass grave near the village of Lukavica, a Serb-controlled suburb of Sarajevo that abuts the southern edge of the city's airport. Eva is chief forensic anthropologist working with a team of local experts and gravediggers. Their mission is to find and recover Bosnian Muslim victims of the ethnic cleansings of the early 1990s. Some 20,000 are still listed as missing. The work proceeds beneath the glare of the Serbs, whose hostility toward non-Serbs has surged sharply since NATO began bombing Belgrade. The local populace also simmers with resentment toward visitors from NATO-member countries. In Sarajevo, the United States ambassador warns Americans not to venture into Serb territories. It is those areas, where a Muslim minority once lived side by side with the Serbs, that contain most of the mass graves so far discovered.

Eva points to bullet hole in skull of a person executed at a prison camp. (Brenda Smiley) [LARGER IMAGE] [image]

Her close-cropped hair as white as distant snow-capped Mount Bjelasnica, Eva has recovered and identified at least 1,000 bodies during the past three-and-a-half years. Beginning in 1996, she excavated throughout Bosnia with international organizations such as the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, but now she prefers to work alone, free of diplomatic strictures. She returned by herself in 1998, volunteering to work directly for the Bosnian Muslims, who, she says, "have the least money, and the most dead." Now she is the only woman, and the only foreigner, working for the International Commission for Tracing Missing Persons (ICMP), established by the Bosnian state in 1996. With teams of pathologists, judges, Serb officials, police, and gravediggers, Eva travels the ravaged countryside searching for the missing and collecting evidence for The Hague War Crimes Tribunal.

Brenda Smiley, writer and journalist, has published articles on Middle Eastern history and archaeology and covered the Iraq-Iran war as a radio reporter. She also has written on DNA privacy issues and is writing a book, Diary of a Gravedigger, about Eva Klonowski.

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© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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