Bosnia identifies three young sisters from 1992 massacre

Rusmir Smajilhodzic
Names of victims in Bosnia's 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war are etched on a board by an empty house in the village of Divic, in the Zvornik district, on March 28, 2012 (AFP Photo/Elvis Barukcic)

Sarajevo (AFP) - The Roma girls were aged just 3, 5 and 7 when Serb paramilitaries gunned them down in wartime Bosnia, along with their pregnant mother, their father and four other young siblings.

More than 23 years after their deaths -- and 12 years after their bones and clothes were found in a mass grave in eastern Bosnia -- forensic experts on Monday identified them as sisters from the Ribic family.

They and their relatives were rounded up and massacred by a Serb paramilitary unit on July 12, 1992, near their village of Skocic in the Zvornik area of the country's east.

Buried nearby in a mass grave at Crni Vrh, their remains were left undiscovered until 2003, a spokeswoman for the Bosnian Missing Persons Institute, Lejla Cengic, told AFP.

The skeleton of a fourth sister was found, but her identity could not be confirmed from DNA testing, Cengic said.

"The skeletons of the parents, found in the same mass grave, were identified earlier, while the remains of three other children are still being looked for," she said.

The youngsters were among the 3,400 children killed in Bosnia's inter-ethnic war from 1992 to 1995, which claimed the lives of around 100,000 people in total.

Many of their bodies are still missing, and life in Bosnia continues to be punctuated by the discovery of mass graves.

It is 20 years this month since a peace deal was signed bringing an end to the conflict, which pitted Bosnia's Muslims and ethnic Croats, who wanted independence from Yugoslavia, against Bosnian Serbs, armed by the Belgrade-controlled federal Yugoslav army.

The Ribic family were among 27 ethnic Romas from the Zvornik area who were killed by the Serb paramilitary force, which turned on the ethnic group after Muslims were expelled from the area.

A Belgrade court jailed seven members of the unit in 2013 with prison terms ranging from two to 20 years for war crimes against civilians.

But the verdict was annulled by the Appeals Court, and in a retrial earlier this year they were acquitted due to "lack of evidence".

The original indictment said one of the Ribic sisters, aged 13, had been raped before her execution.

There was only one survivor from the Ribic family, a brother Zijo who is now aged 31 and is yet to have any closure over the killings.

"He will see the remains and clothes (of the fourth sister) to try and help forensics complete this identification," Cengic said.