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Balkans Stability Pact Summit

by David Taylor, SFOR Informer

Sarajevo, July 28, 1999 - As the moment approaches for the Balkans Stability Pact Summit to begin, thousand of citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina have been working day and night to make the event happen, at what has been very short notice.

The scenes in the Zetra Ice Stadium, where the summit is due to be held, are truly spectacular... the Olympic Ice Stadium only recently re-opened after considerable rebuilding resurrected it from the broken, burned structure that came through the war, and it has resembled an ant's nest for the last two weeks as preparations have advanced to ready it for the summit, and all the trappings that go with such an event.

Colonel James T. Gray (US Army) is the SFOR liaison officer for the summit, charged with working closely with Bosnia and Hercegovina at a ministerial level as well as with the European Presidency. "Normally one of these conferences takes from six months to a year in preparation and they are normally much smaller than this. Here, this is going to be one of the largest conferences ever held, and there has been less than 30 days to prepare for it from the SFOR standpoint, but the local authorities have not had any more time."

Referring to the rapid progress the local authorities have made in such a short time frame, Gray points out that this summit is being prepared in an environment that is limited in many respects because BiH is recovering from a war and, from that point of view, is not as readily prepared for such an event as say: "Geneva London or Bonn. And so they have started from those limitations to create a conference that has the magnitude of one of the largest ever held, and the local authorities have the real challenge of trying to resource and support it. And SFOR is ready to lend assistance wherever it is requested. We are available to them for a number of things."

"As we stand upon the eve of the summit, it appears right now that things are really starting to come together. Now that we are getting down to the crunch, all the elements seem to be locking into place, and it's suprising that with so many moving pieces that we are able to do that.... it's just a lot of hard work on the part of many people."

SFOR's main task in the summit is to support security activities and to this end it is working very closely with the Federation and Republika Srpska authorities to provide a secure environment especially along the main routes and facilities. There has been a sizeable increase of SFOR troops with contingents from many nations working in the area. This support does not in any way change SFOR's primary mission of maintaining a safe and secure environment throughout the country.

"The Mulitnational Divisions of SFOR are really doing a great job," said Gray. "They're tasked with their normal mission of overall security in a global aspect and on top of that they have been tasked with helping out here in a very centralised position... and they are doing a great job of understanding and making those adjustments... we've got to give a lot of credit to the divisions..."