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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


Iron Ore Enriched with Human Bones
By Snjezana Mulic
Dani (Sarajevo)
April 15, 2005

On April 6th of this year, Jasmin Odobasic, the head of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Federal Commission on Missing Persons, found a human skull - wedged between sparse trees and stones - on the very surface of a strip mine in the New Mines Ljubija area. Not far away from it, there were other skeleton parts.

For our state of affairs, unfortunately, one skeleton is no novelty, especially within that particular area, but this very finding clearly unmasks the bold lies of the new mines' owners, that there are "no remains of murdered Bosniaks and Croats" in the area.

Indeed, the world's biggest steel manufacturer Mittal Steel Company, that precisely one year ago bought 51 percent ownership of the Ljubija mines near Prijedor, is trying to suppress what cannot be suppressed - that it bought the mines which, in their depths but also on the surface, hide the truth about the crimes that the Serb military and paramilitary committed against Bosniaks and Croats in July 1992.

During that year of 1992, more than three thousand non-Serbs were murdered in the Prijedor municipality (there are 3.227 recorded in the Book of the Missing, although the suspected number is even higher), while in a single day, on July 25, 1992, several hundred civilians were executed in the abandoned Omarska strip mine. Simply, the mines had become the biggest concentration camps and execution sites of the non-Serb population.

The mines' management fired all employed Bosniaks and Croats at the beginning of the war, while the still-employed Serbs got a new task - instead of the ore, they dug bodies of their co-workers and neighbors.

The truth about the mines was first exposed by Ed Vulliamy, reporter for The Guardian, who publicized the images of the emaciated camp inmates. But even though the images "shocked the world", that did not help the victims to find their peace. On the contrary: the Republika Srpska authorities, that became the mines' owner after the war and still retain 49 percent ownership today, soon started to mine the ore. The first post-war iron ore quantities shipped from the Ljubija mines, most probably 'enriched' with human calcium and phosphorus, were delivered to the Serbian steelworks in Smederevo.

While the executioners of the Prijedor municipality non-Serb population took care of business, the Federal Commission on Missing Persons, led by Jasmin Odobasic, searched for skeletons and struggled to reclaim some dignity for the victims and 'closure' for their surviving relatives. Consequently, only two kilometers from what is today the entrance to the central building of the Omarska mine, where one is greeted with a cyrillic "Welcome" sign, 456 bodies were recovered from the Stari Kevljani mass grave. The Hrastova Glavica mass grave, also within the Omarska mine area, revealed 126 bodies, the Redak mass grave 74, Lisac 49, Pasinac 54, and the Jakarina Kosa mass grave (in the mines at Ljubija) 373 bodies. According to the Commission on Missing Persons records and the claims of the victims' relatives, there are still approximately 1,700 bodies hidden within the realm of New Mines Ljubija!

However, that horrifying actuality does not stop the new majority-owners of the mines, nor those others - the Republika Srpska authorities - from mining the ore. Conversely, those others benefited from the involvement of the Indian-British Mittal Steel Company, mainly in obtaining an opportunity to at least partially cover up the extent of genocide against Bosniaks and Croats.

The federal and state-level authorities likewise have voiced no protest against these new mining operations undertaken before all victims' remains have been exhumed and all execution sites have been marked. The only voice of reason came from the camp survivors and victims' relatives, several non-governmental organizations, the above-mentioned Federal Commission on Missing Persons, and one foreigner - the journalist Ed Vulliamy.

Last year, just after Lakshmi Mittal took over the mines, The Society for Threatened Peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina organized a round-table discussion, gathering representatives of the organizations of the missing persons' families, representatives of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), similar commissions from the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, local police and human rights organizations. From this discussion, they requested that the High Representative in BH and the Republika Srpska authorities put a halt to the privatization of the mines, expressing fear that it will thwart further searches for the remains of the missing persons. However, the president of the Society for Threatened Peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina Ms. Fadila Memisevic told Dani that no response to those requests was ever received.

With the assistance of the journalist Ed Vulliamy, a similar protest was directed to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal's London office by the non-governmental organizations Srcem do mira from Kozarac, the Association of Camp Survivors from Prijedor Municipality, the Bosnian Network from Great Britain, Izvor from Prijedor, and Optimisti 2004 from the Netherlands.

Sabahudin Garibovic, the spokesman for the Association of Camp Survivors from Prijedor Municipality, who was imprisoned for 88 days in the Trnopolje camp [in 1992], says that there was no response to that letter either. "But we rely upon Ed. He will go to the end, just like he did in 1992, when he entered the camps and showed those horrifying images to the world. Our request primarily is for the infamous building called the White House, where people were held, brutally tortured and murdered, and the space around it, to be excluded from the mines and marked as a former execution ground. We want to put up a commemorative inscription there, as we did in the former Keraterm camp. Our second request is that the mining of ore be stopped until all victims have been exhumed", says Garibovic.

He pointed out that these organizations sent letters of protest to former Prijedor municipality official Ms. Nada Sevo, who "agreed in principle to the marking of execution grounds". But nothing further happened, since Ms. Sevo's mandate - expired!

Last year, on June 9, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (HK BiH) wrote to Ms. Sevo as well. Stating that the remains of approximately 1,500 bodies of victims are still hidden in the mines area, Srdjan Dizdarevic, the president of the HK BiH, asked Ms. Sevo to "use the power of her authority to do everything so that the fate of the missing would be discovered". Nothing happened after this letter either.

Then, when one of the largest mass graves - Stari Kevljani - was discovered in the area [October 2004], Jasmin Odobasic invited Muraree Mukherjee, the Indian who is presently in charge of the management of the New Mines Ljubija, to come to the opening of the mass grave. "I brought him to the edge of the pit and he saw hundreds of bodies with his own eyes. He personally promised to me that he will do everything so that all the graves, collective and individual, in the mines area are discovered", says Odobasic.

But Mukherjee lied. Not only he did nothing concerning the exhumations of the victims, but today he even denies that there are any mass graves in the mines area!? For Dani he stated: "To this day (April 12, 2005) no bodies or mass graves from the 1992 war have been found in Omarska, nor in any area under the control of the New Mines Ljubija."

He also said that Mittal Steel Company controls only the Omarska and Drenovaca mines in the Ljubija mines complex. Which is not true. Otherwise, the official Mittal company web site would not carry a text saying that it owns 51 percent of the Ljubija mines complex. And that - Mittal Company knows that well - includes Ljubija, Omarska and Tomasica as well. But, the LNM Group, part of the Mittal Steel Company, did not respond any differently to the reports in The Guardian either.

In December last year, they wrote an announcement stating that "the land that LNM has purchased as part of its investment into Bosnia is not on the site of any of the known mass graves in this region". They informed both The Guardian and Dani that no remains have been found at the Omarska mines.

Unlike the Indian, who at least wrote some kind of response, Mladen Jelaca, the director of the mines' part controlled by the Republika Srpska authorities, has not done even that much. After he refused to see us during our visit to Prijedor (April 7 and 8, 2005), on the excuse that we "had not announced our visit", he promised to respond in writing. Although he received questions along those sent to Mukherjee, mainly concerning the bodies within the mines and the national composition of the work force (there are no Bosniaks or Croats [presently] employed at the mines), he did not answer.

Only a few days before that, in Kozarski vijesnik, a magazine that used to provide the main media logistics for the chetnik 'contractors' during the war, Jelaca boasted on how "the New Mines Ljubija plan to produce and sell one million tonnes of the iron ore concentrate in 2005. The director also stated: "The New Mines Ljubija is a big company, important and very interesting to the public, especially now that it does business with the world's biggest metallurgical company Mittal Steel." Jelaca, of course, refused to answer the following question: how can the Ljubija mines' iron foundry be operational when there are still bones of the victims there?

Kemo Alagic, one of the Ljubija survivors, 70 members of whose family were murdered, took us to the iron foundry at the very entrance to the Ljubija mines, today used for production of sewer manholes. Next to the foundry is the so-called crusher. That machine had been used to crush the iron ore, and - in 1992 - to crush the bodies of the murdered Bosniaks and Croats. While he takes us up the hill, to the mine strips, Alagic points out the locations where, in April 1992, "blood ran in streams".

"There are bodies in this place", says Kemo pointing his finger. "And here, and here", he says and asks us not to take pictures, because: "They will recognize where this is and move the bodies elsewhere, then nobody will be able to find them again. The Serbs have already moved these bodies once before. They threw them into these pits, previously stuffing the rocks with industrial explosives. When that exploded, the bodies were blown to pieces, and the earth and rocks covered them. They thought nobody will find that out. Even today we come accross some locations, sometimes even the Serbs help us, and we keep that secret until the Commission gets enough money to exhume the victims."

The only thing that cannot be hidden, he says, are the small lakes, black from the iron. "There are bodies in the lakes too, everybody knows that, but they think that nobody will go into them because of the water."

And while he shows us the Jakarina Kosa mass grave site, where [the remains of] 373 victims were recently exhumed within the Ljubija mines area, on the edge of the pit we find a used condom.

However, that explicit example of the Republika Srpska attitude towards the crimes and innocent victims, horrible as it sounds, is easier to comprehend than the attitude of those who represent Bosniaks and Croats at the state and federal level. Those authorities have never raised this question, in any form.

But, considering the fact that the Mittal Steel Company is also the majority-owner of the Zenica steelworks, which formed one metallurgical enterprise with the Ljubija mines before the war, and that the present owners are most probably recreating that symbiosis, providing a point of introducing foreign investors for the local politicians, everything becomes much clearer.

Thus the silence of the local media about the fresh crime committed against the victims of previous crimes in the Ljubija mines, and the loud praises of the export successes of the Indian Mittal family. A particularly grotesque example occurred within the last three weeks: on March 26, daily Dnevni Avaz reported on the funerals in Prijedor of 126 victims [whose remains were] exhumed from the Jakarina Kosa mass grave within the Ljubija mines, with all the SDA officials gathering there for that occasion, and Reisu-l-ulema Ceric even saying that the sky itself had come down to look for those who supressed the truth about the crime. But only ten days later, the same daily newspaper carried an interview with Roeland Baan, the Mittal Steel Company's CEO for eastern and central Europe, in which he praised the diligent Ljubija miners and the mines' new management. He did not mention Omarska, Keraterm, Jakarina Kosa... or the camp survivors' request to put up a memorial marker, nor did the Avaz journalist ask him about that.

There are no questions from the media outlets, even less so from the various Cerics, Tihics, Terzics or Hadzipasics, and the only ones concerned about the human souls - unappeased in this and in the other world - are the non-governmental organizations and victims' families.

On March 26 this year, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a letter to Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the ICTY, drawing attention to the "unreasonable decision on the Ljubija mines' privatization" and asking her to do everything to stop the ore mining untill all victims are exhumed and to send forensic experts and investigators to the mines. Del Ponte was the only person to act upon this matter so far, by sending Jan Van Hecke, the Head of the ICTY Mission, to Srdjan Dizdarevic, the president of the Helsinki Committee. However!

"Van Hecke asked me for the locations of the mass graves, which is inexplicable. We do not have such information. I directed him to the Commission on Missing Persons", says Dizdarevic. But, to this day, Van Hecke has not contacted the Commission.

The New Mines Ljubija has exported 750 tonnes of the iron ore to the Czech Republic and is planning to produce one million tonnes in this year, the mining proceeds, the iron enriched with calcium and phosphorus from human bones is travelling across Europe, the Mittal family gains new millions to pay for their offspring's weddings... And the world is marking the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust and repeating: "never again!"


The importance of the Ljubija mining complex, industrial and strategic, is well known. In 1979, it was confirmed by the discovery of new iron ore layers, estimated at almost a half billion tonnes, or almost half of the former Yugoslavia's proven reserves of this raw material. An ominous thirteen years later, the Ljubija mines acquired another strategic function, this time in the genocide industry, with the former mining buildings, pits and machinery proving handy for use as concentration camps and mass graves.

In February 1996, when this industry of crime had already been substantially exposed by the efforts of foreign reporters, the mayor of Banja Luka at the time, Predrag Radic, announced that production was to resume in two large iron mines in Ljubija, as a result of negotiations with the Croatian government involving exchange of iron ore for oil. These negotiations took place only six months after the Croatian army's military operations 'Bljesak' (Flash) and 'Oluja' (Storm), just as the Serb refugees from Croatia were settling down in the recently ethnically-cleansed houses of the Prijedor region.

One month earlier, in January that year, Chris Hedges had written for the New York Times: "But last fall [1995], as the war began to turn against them, townspeople say the Bosnian Serbs moved to begin to collect bodies from other grave sites and dump them in a central pit in the Ljubija mine." In the fall of that year, while a U.S. Congressional delegation was visiting the Prijedor region, looking into the disappearance of the local Catholic priest Tomislav Matanovic, the delegation members were approached by Biljana Plavsic, since sentenced to prison by the ICTY, and Simo Drljaca, later killed while resisting arrest on war crime charges, who asked the American visitors for support in their quest for financing to reopen the Omarska mine.

Six months later, in March 1997, representatives of the German company Triacom visited the mines with the intention of acquiring them and expressed their satisfaction with the ore quality and technical possibilities, but withdrew from negotiations in the summer of 1998, after they were approached by Human Rights Watch. In February of that year, while the ICTY forensic experts were preparing for their investigations in the Prijedor region, a meeting took place in Belgrade, gathering industrial leaders of the former Yugoslavia; namely Dusko Matkovic, the general manager of the Yugoslav steel industry Sartid based in Smederevo, Milorad Dodik, the then Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska government, and the managers of the Zenica steelworks [Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina] and the Ljubija mining complex [Republika Srpska]. At that occasion, Dodik stated that economic logic must prevail in overall relations.

Over the next several years, his vision of the economic future has been hindered by the official investigations of the mass grave sites in the Prijedor region, with one of the largest grave sites among them being found at a location called Jakarina Kosa, within the Ljubija mines area, whose exhumed victims were identified and buried in dignity only recently, in 2005. However, the entire decade-long efforts of the Republika Srpska to restart digging for ore in Ljubija - in order to thwart digging for those other items - paid off in the end, when a much larger, global economic logic prevailed and the mines came under the ownership of the Mittal Steel Company.

The logic of those who still search the mine pits for their missing loved ones, in the year of the tenth anniversary of Srebrenica and the 60th of Auschwitz, thereby seems to be ruled out of place.

(English translation by Maja Lovrenovic )

Formerly published at http://www.domovina.net/ljubija/050408_dani.html

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