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Forces dig in for the long haul in Bosnia.

TFBH has a 1700-strong contingent of Canadian men and women. The main element is a battle group of 1200 troops based on 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (3RCR) from Petawawa, Ontario, which has an area of operations, larger than Prince Edward Island.

"Oscar" company, 3RCR is located in a town of approximately 10,000 people, 175-km northwest of Sarajevo. Drvar was, before the war, almost entirely Serb in ethnic make-up. But during the Croatian offensive of August 1995, the area was ethnically-cleansed with the original Serb inhabitants fleeing eastward. The area was repopulated by ethic Croats. Now the Serbs are returning, much to the consternation of the present inhabitants.

"We had some shooting in the hills around the town for four nights straight and some tracer fire close by last weekend," explained Major Dave Berry, company commander. "I decided to make a show of presence to calm things down. We set up over 200-vehicle control points randomly, and stopped and searched every suspicious vehicle for weapons and contraband. What I do here is not so much for humanitarian reasons, it's to maintain the security of the peace agreement." The Drvar area now comprises a population divided about 65 per cent Serb and 35 per cent Croat. The tensions are always evident. A Norwegian aid organization finished rebuilding a school near the town in April of this year. It was to be used to temporarily house returning ethic Serbs. Less than three weeks after reconstruction, in the middle of the night, the school was destroyed by a series of explosions.

Nada and Jovan Lazic returned to their farm in the Mokronoge valley near Drvar in 1996 after the area was secured by NATO's then Implementation Force (IFOR). In 1998 the Italians under the European Union helped rebuild their house, and to reconnect them to the electrical power grid. Mrs. Lazic is grateful to have the Canadians nearby. "I'm worried something may happen. Some may try something and the fighting would start again," she said, through an interpreter. "Since [SFOR] came we have had no problems. We are thankful for the assistance."

At the main Canadian support base at Velika Kladusa, Camp Black Bear, in northwestern Bosnia near the Croatian border, Captain Clayton Vanvolkenburk is the Maintenance Platoon Commander. The work area is located in two airplane hanger-sized buildings with a gravel floor and few facilities. "We are going to pour concrete, add proper lighting and exhaust systems. These will be two, full, hanger-sized maintenance areas. Once we do that we'll have everything we need."

The area about 100 meters from Vanvolkenburk's office looks like a giant dropped off his Leggo bricks. "In total, 84 more units are going up in the camp," stated Chief Warrant Officer Hills. "We are closing the camp in Coralici [a 40-minute drive] and consolidating here." White housing containers, the size of a standard sea container, are being assembled and stacked to form low apartment structures not unlike "Habitat" in Montreal, only without the avant garde stylishness. The town of Velika Kladusa by Camp Black Bear is populated primarily by Muslims, also known as Bosniacs, and shows signs of ongoing reconstruction. SFOR and the civilian element, the Office of the High Representative (OHR), tie humanitarian aid to compliance with the peace agreement.

The Muslim element of the Bosnian federation has the added assistance of well-off Gulf States. Virtually every small town needing a mosque has had a new one constructed.

Meanwhile Serbs dominate the town of Banja Luka in north central Bosnia. Hate is never far from the surface. The mosque at the center of town was to be reopened to much fanfare in early May, however the opening ceremony saw riots by the local populace, including the burning of busses that brought visitors to the town. The police took little action. According to Major Kevin Cameron, Operations Officer for the battle group, the rescheduled ceremony, several weeks later, saw "SFOR deploy a show of force and demonstration of combat capability" with major elements of Multi-National Division Southwest, commanded by Canadian Major General Rick Hillier. "There were people ready to riot again when we got there, but once we secured the area, the local police took care of the civilians and there was no riot," said Cameron.

Market day in the town of Bihac sees the stalls filled with goods from clothing to food to small appliances. Ramzija Turnje sells women's clothing from a narrow stall. Her son, wounded by a grenade, can't work; her husband has suffered a stroke; her son-in-law was killed; and Mrs. Turnje tries to take care of her granddaughter and make sure she attends her grade ten classes. When queried through an interpreter about her safety, Mrs. Turnje replied, "SFOR helps defend the people," and is happy to see Canadian troops conducting foot patrols through the town.

One hundred kilometres west of Sarajevo sits the town of Tomislavgrad. Home to the Parachute Company of 3RCR, these soldiers have been busy. The Croat element of the Army of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina appeared to be wavering in its security of its weapons storage areas. The Para's were ordered to seize the sites and maintain security over them. Upon receiving intelligence reports concerning stolen humanitarian aid, the maroon berets swooped in on the warehouse, retrieved, and then redistributed food, clothing and building supplies. In an operation affectionately known as "The Bank Job," the company seized a bank in town so that UN civilian bank auditors could retrieve records to check on suspiciously large and potentially illegal transactions.

Back in Camp Black Bear, the staff are just finishing off the laundry and hoping the new machines will arrive shortly. Captain Jennifer Degruchy, a nurse, points out where the new dental office will be built and the transport drivers talk about when the rubber fuel "bladders" will replaced by metal tanks. Everywhere there is talk about the camp improvements.

Although SFOR, and indeed our troops, have kept a lid on open hostilities in the Balkans, there is still a long way to go before Bosnia becomes a united, fully functional democratic nation. In the words of Major Randy Kemp, Deputy Commanding Officer of 3RCR, "We are here for the long haul, a long, long time."
COPYRIGHT 2001 S.R. Taylor Publishing
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Author:Michitsch, Howard
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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