The chilling after effects of war

Eric Ollerenshaw with Adam Boys, director of the International Commission on Missing Persons
Eric Ollerenshaw with Adam Boys, director of the International Commission on Missing Persons

Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw spent four days in Bosnia-Hercegovina witnessing first hand the after effects of war.

He assisted a charity called Medica Zenica, which deals with women and children affected by sexual violence both today and 20 years ago in the Bosnian war.

It is his third visit to the area as a volunteer, the first being in 2008 as part of Project Maja, which helped Bosniak refugees return to their homes after the massacre of 8,500 Muslim men and boys near Srebrenica in 1995.

He said: “I went again two years ago to help renovate a special needs school in Sarajevo and, then, this year to Zenica to help highlight the call by William Hague to make sexual violence in war recognised as a war crime.

“I suppose, as I used to be a history teacher, this part of the world has always fascinated me as the part of the Balkans where the opening shots of World War I began with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

“I always remembered those scenes on TV in the 1990s when fighting broke out between Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs and one could hardly believe it was going on in our continent when we all thought we had properly learnt the lessons of World War II.”

Mr Ollerenshaw said on his most recent visit he saw the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons, created after the conflict in Bosnia to help trace the remains of men and boys massacred, and whose bodies had not only been hidden but whose bones had been deliberately buried then re-buried in order to mix them up so their identities could be hidden.

He added: “This is painstaking work involving taking thousands of blood samples from surviving relatives then extracting DNA from the bones that are found and trying to match other bones from other burial sites and it is work that is still going on.

“We were shown a room with over a 1,000 bags of separated partial remains awaiting to be matched up and hopefully then providing some kind of closure to a family.

It is totally heart-breaking when you meet a mother who has only two pieces of bone to bury, which is all that has been found of her 14-year-old boy who was killed in the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995.

This pioneering work in Bosnia is now used across the world following disasters, where there is a problem in identifying partial human remains, such as the recent plane disaster in the Ukraine.”