Progress Made by Bosnia and Herzegovina in Finding the “Bugojno 21” Who Went Missing in 1993

Photo: Illustration

By Saša Kulukčija

Sarajevo, 19 February 2021 –The mortal remains of four members of a high-profile group known as the “Bugojno 21” who disappeared 1993 in the Bugojno area during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been located by the BIH authorities with support from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). With two of the group identified earlier, 15 remain missing.

In a sign of progress in the case, BIH’s authorities this week identified the four individuals as Zoran Galić, Dragan Miličević, Ante Markulj and Franjo Jezidžić. The identification by authorities was based on analysis and matching of DNA profiles conducted late last year at ICMP’s lab in The Hague. ICMP’s technical assistance was made possible with the financial support of the European Union.

Dijana Strujić, President of Bugojno Municipality Association of Families of Killed and Missing Soldiers of the Homeland War, said the case “showed families that they should not lose hope.”

The case, she said, also dispelled arguments by anyone who denies what happened:  “They can no longer lie to us and tell us that the crimes did not happen and that we imagined them,” she said, adding: “I call on all those who have any information to share it with the competent institutions in order to finally resolve the fate of those forcibly taken from the camp in Bugojno. I believe that they are all at Rostovo, at the same place where these four bodies were found. The anonymous report is the last straw of salvation for our missing relatives we are still searching for, as well as for all those who were forcibly taken away and went missing in this war. We, on all three sides, have the same goal and that is to find our loved ones.”

Marko Jurisic, Member of the Board of Directors of the Missing Persons Institute, said additional efforts are needed to bring the process of accounting for the missing persons to an end.

“The state, through its institutions and in cooperation with international organizations (ICMP), provided an answer to family members about the fate of their loved ones after 27 years,” he said. “Without resolving the issue of missing persons, it is impossible to build a democratic and open society.”

Matthew Holliday, Head of ICMP’s Western Balkans Program, said: “Authorities and political leaders in BIH should unequivocally support the process of accounting for all missing persons and bring all perpetrators to justice in line with the rule of law.”

The four identified individuals were a part of group of 21 prominent Bosnian Croats from Bugojno who in November 1993 allegedly were transferred from the Stadion detention centre in Bugojno to an unknown destination after the Bosnian forces took over the town.

Their remains were found last July, when a resident in the village of Rostovo in the Bugojno municipality was preparing to build a holiday home. BIH authorities exhumed the remains in the same month with ICMP technical assistance. One of the victims who disappeared at Bugojno was identified in 1999 and another in 2011.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, assisted by ICMP, has accounted for 75 percent of the approximately 30,000 persons reported missing as a consequence of the 1990s conflict. Further progress is difficult due to the lack of information on possible locations of mass and clandestine graves. Anyone with information of such locations can report anonymously through ICMP.

About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.