On 6 February the official body established to ascertain the fate of these people - the Working Group on Persons Unaccounted For -- met for the first time since 1999.
In 1996, in accordance with Article 5, Annex 7, of the Dayton Agreement, the ICRC set up this Working Group to ensure a systematic flow of information between the families and the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who bear the main responsibility for elucidating the fate of the missing. In 1999, however, after 14 sessions, so little progress had been made that the Group's activities had to be suspended. Working on a bilateral basis with the authorities concerned, the ICRC has done its best to get the process under way again while putting the Group on a new footing. The commitments recently made by the parties give reason to hope that the Working Group will now produce concrete results.
The meeting of 6 February brought together representatives of the signatories to the Dayton Agreement (Bosnia-Herzegovina and the governments of this State's two entities - the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina - the Republic of Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro), the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the ambassadors of the countries that witnessed the signing of the Agreement (Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). The European Commission, the International Commission for Missing Persons, the Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina and representatives of the families of the missing also took part as observers.
After being updated on steps taken since the last session in connection with the identification and exhumation of mortal remains, the parties agreed upon and signed the rules of procedure and terms of reference for the work ahead. In addition, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina replied to some 20 tracing requests submitted by the ICRC on behalf of the families and all sides received new requests to be processed by the time the Working Group meets again, in September this year.
Representatives of the governments of the countries of the former Yugoslavia and of NGOs, including family associations, from those countries, are among the 300 experts who have been invited to attend an international conference on the issue of missing persons to be held by the ICRC from 19 to 21 February in Geneva (www.themissing.icrc.org).
Annick Bouvier, Media Relations Officer for the Balkans, ICRC Geneva, tel: ++41 22 730 24 58
Florian Westphal, Media Relations Officer for the conference on missing persons, ICRC Geneva