Sunday 20 August 2017

Fergal Keane diary: The fact is the bad guys win a lot in a struggle of memory against forgetting

Despite the hopes of the international tribunals following the Bosnian war, it has become easier to cloud history in a collective amnesia than remember the truth

Atrocity: A woman cries near the coffins of some of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, as the bodies of 136 victims are transported to the memorial centre in Potocari for burial. Photo: Dado Ruvic
Atrocity: A woman cries near the coffins of some of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, as the bodies of 136 victims are transported to the memorial centre in Potocari for burial. Photo: Dado Ruvic

Fergal Keane

It is common among foreign correspondents to bemoan the wars they didn't cover. Nothing is more annoying than listening to colleagues waxing about adventures you missed. I reported on most of the conflicts of the late 20th Century. But I never got to Bosnia. I was in Africa then, reporting on the transition to democracy in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda.

After the ceasefire I was sent to report on the exhumation of mass graves from the Srebrenica massacre. We were taken to a huge mortuary where human remains were taken out and laid on the ground. Relatives walked around looking at the decomposed corpses. A woman identified her son from a diabetic needle. Some spotted familiar clothing. Others looked in vain for fragments of the lost. The air was filled with cries. My cameraman was Eugene McVeigh. We were old friends from Belfast days. It is to my shame that I was too busy focusing on the scene around me to stop and think what all this might have meant to him. His 19-year-old brother Colomba was abducted and disappeared by the Provos in November 1975. Despite intensive searching of Bragan bog in County Monaghan his body has never been found.

Bodies vanish. They belong to the earth, mulching into bogs, woods, the beds of rivers. The loved ones keep searching. Colomba's mother Vera died without knowing where her boy was buried. The search is being kept up by Eugene and his siblings but to date the IRA has failed to come up with a precise location.

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