UK aids search for mass graves

April 25, 2003

Scientists from two British universities are spearheading a search to locate some of the largest mass graves left behind following the Balkan conflicts.

State-of-the-art equipment is being used by experts from the universities of Leicester and Birmingham to locate and identify thousands of people still reported missing after the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

The scientists are collaborating with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), based in Sarajevo.

Field tests of the search and mapping equipment at suspected mass grave sites have already taken place, and the team is now working closely with the Bosnian and other former Yugoslavian authorities in the recovery, examination and identification of missing persons throughout the Balkans.

The search for missing persons will also target virtually inaccessible places, such as under buildings and parking lots, or in collapsed mines.

John Hunter, professor of ancient history and archaeology at Birmingham, is heading the team.

"We aim to use ground-penetrating radar and other advanced technology to find mass graves, and to document bodies and artefacts contained within the graves," Professor Hunter said.

The Leicester team is being led by Guy Rutty of the forensic pathology department. The team will carry out tests on human bones to assess the time since death and the life history of missing people. This information will then complement the ICMP's DNA-led identification system in the bid to identify missing persons.

An ICMP spokesman said: "There are several controversial sites in the region, where people suspect that bodies have been hidden in underground mine tunnels or buried under hotels, petrol stations or concrete slabs and parking lots.

"Groundbreaking radar can document some of these sites without the need to dig. We may even find some of the largest mass graves to date in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

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