The remains of around 100 people believed to have been Muslims killed early in the Bosnian 1992-95 war have been unearthed from a lake bed on the border between Bosnia and Serbia, forensic experts said on Tuesday.
"We have unearthed a total of 396 skeletal remains which belong to at least 97 bodies," said Amor Masovic, the head of Bosnia's Missing Persons Institute.
The victims, believed to be some of the 1,000 Bosnian Muslims who went missing from the eastern town of Visegrad in 1992, were found in a joint effort by Bosnian and Serbian forensic experts during a two-and-a-half month operation.
Masovic said the operation was one of the most extensive since the search for war victims began in 1996 and the first conducted together with Serbian and Kosovo officials, reflecting the improvement in relations between former rivals.
Some 2,000 experts and volunteers took part in the painful search along both sides of the Lake Perucac, a 60-km (38-mile) long dammed section of the Drina river that has been largely emptied for dam repairs.
Veljko Odalovic, the head of the Serbian commission for missing persons, said that skeletal remains which are thought to belong to 11 victims were found on the Serbian bank of the lake.
"I believe that establishing the fate of the missing is one of the most important issues and could be a key for the reconciliation in the region," Odalovic said, adding that it should also serve as an example on how to resolve other outstanding issues between the former foes.
His team, along with representatives of the Kosovo commission for missing persons, has also been looking for Kosovo Albanians killed by Serbian forces during NATO bombings in 1999. The bodies were put in a refrigerator truck and thrown in the same lake.
Some 14,000 people are still missing from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, 10,000 of them in Bosnia.
About 1,000 Visegrad civilians are thought to have been killed in May 1992 by the Bosnian Serb forces, helped by allies from neighbouring Serbia, in a bid to create an exclusively Serb statelet in Bosnia.
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) described the atrocities as one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing. It said hundreds of men, women and children were killed on the Drina river bridges and thrown into the river.
Masovic said the bodies were believed to have floated downstream towards the lake where they hooked on tree branches, rocks or stuck in the mud.
Some 2.5 million square metres (yards) of the lake bed has been searched in an area known for snakes and unexploded grenades and mines left over from the war that claimed 100,000 lives.
The final identification of the victims will require a DNA analysis.
Six bodies of Austro-Hungarian officers, who were killed during the World War One, were also found in the lake.