Bosnia lays its bones to rest

June 27, 2003

Slowly, precisely, gently, Laura Yazedjian lays the earthy, off-white bones out on the cold steel table, trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle. This is no innocent pastime: the pieces of the puzzle are the mortal remains of young Bosnian boys, men and old men - sons, fathers and grandfathers.

Ms Yazedjian's work has contributed to 600 bodies from Srebrenica being finally laid to rest in a mass burial at Potacari, and 500 others will be buried on the eighth anniversary of the massacres on July 11.

Ms Yazedjian, a Canadian graduate, is doing a six-month placement for the International Commission for Missing Persons as part of a masters in forensic science at King's College London. Her undergraduate degree in anthropology qualified her for this most unusual of placements.

"Many people here in Bosnia are in it for the money and I don't agree with that - I love bones. I like knowing how things work, and it doesn't change even if it's a massacre victim. To me, it isn't a human being - it is a giant puzzle. I am working on two bodies and the parts are all mixed up."

She is working her way through the remains of 162 bodies. Normal methods of identification are impossible as few dental or medical records are available, so Ms Yazedjian has devised a system for logging the skeletal details on her laptop. If she had not provided a laptop, she would have had to log everything on paper.

The bones before her are of a 23 or 24-year-old male. Ms Yazedjian explains how she tells their age by looking for signs of wear on the pelvis and by the ends of the ribs, which are usually sharper in older people.

"I look forward to working in the field, digging on mass burial sites, as it gives me a break. Working here all day I can log about 12 to 13 bodies if they are not mixed up. Look," she says, pointing to some remains, "this one has had his pelvis chewed by rats, dogs or foxes."

But a funding crisis means the DNA profiling programme will have to be scaled down this month, and Ms Yazedjian's job could be another casualty.

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