By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8, 2001
Every day in Bocinja Donja the Nordic-Polish
Battle Group (NPBG) has to deal with the contention between Bosnian
Serb returnees and the former "religious freedom fighters"
who came to help Bosniac Army during the war. This month the Turkish
Battle Group joined the NPBG for a patrol of the area.
Donja - Three Polish patrol vehicles move slowly through the morning
haze. The appointment with the Turkish unit has been fixed in
Zepce. Maj. Demczuk Marek, Lt. Wojciech Wieja and 1st Lt. Pawel
Kozuba are in charge of the Nordpol unit. 1st Lt Cem Gijltekin,
company commander, and 1st Lt. Aycut Oncu, platoon leader, are
in charge of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Company of the Turkish
Battalion. After a quick briefing, the convoy heads towards Bocinja
Donja on the hard packed dirt road along the Bocinja Stream. The
terrain is wooded with steep hillsides. There are approximately
170 houses in the Bocinja Donja area, and most of them are just
starting their reconstruction and are still marked with impacts.
Much of the area was mined during the war. Just ahead, two big
trees block the road, forcing the patrol to turn around.
Back at Nordpol Barracks in Doboj, the Turkish BG gets a presentation
of Nordpol's equipment and shooting exercises. The translator,
Koviljka Spiric, discusses the situation in the area of responsibility
(AOR) with the visitors.
A short history
the war, small groups of Islamic extremists and warriors from
various countries were integrated into some Bosniac units, mainly
within the 3rd corps. They mainly operated in the areas of Bihac,
Zenica, Maglaj, Vozuca, Travnik, and Zavidovici. In the final
phase of the war they participated in the attack on the Ozren
pocket. In these areas they fought as a subordinate unit named
El Muhajideen. The unit consisted of several hundred warriors.
Some of them were also used as instructors in the Bosniac army.
After the war they and their families organised a community that
stood apart from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose Muslim
majority largely follows a moderate version of Islam. Strict Islamic
law, in contrast, began to govern Bocinja Donja's affairs. Women
there took to wearing veils and long black robes, and men had
long beards. They didn't drink or smoke or speak to visitors.
The Nordpol BG had to maintain a temporary base in the village
after several incidents of provocation were reported. Today the
base no longer exists, but there are three patrols a day in the
Bosnian Serb inhabitants were expelled in September 1995 during
the last Muslim offensive on Vozuca and Ozren. The "freedom
fighters" inhabited the Bocinja Donja village shortly after
the General Framework Agreement For Peace (GFAP) was signed. This
was contrary to the intentions of the GFAP, in which Annex 1A,
article III, states: "All Forces not of local origin shall
be withdrawn within 30 days of GFAP signing (Dec.14, 1995). All
forces remaining in territory must act consistently with territory
integrity, sovereignty and political independence of BiH."
They managed to stay because many of them married into local families
and consequently obtained official documents allowing them to
live in BiH. They were also supported by some hard-liner Bosniac
evictions began, 159 of these families were in Bocinja. Their
leader was Abu Hamza, a doctor who studied in Belgrade during
Tito's Yugoslavia. Hamza, from Syria, married a woman whose husband
was killed in the war, and thereby gained citizenship in BiH.
The current situation
Maglaj Municipality and authorities started evictions August 28
of 2000. During 2001, 131 families were evicted. The government
gave 100,000 KM to help some families move. At the moment there
are still seven houses in Bocinja occupied by Muhajideens. But
according to some estimates, there are more families.
August 3, a new Polish patrol team commanded by Warrant Officer
Piotr Wisniewski and Lt. Anrzej Serafin, deputy chief interpreter,
met with Bosko Jovanovic, vice-president of the Association for
return of the Bosnian Serbs to Maglaj Municipality. His house
stands just in front of the mosque, where loudspeakers call out
prayers. Numerous Muslims stare at the convoy as it crosses the
village. More than 40 of their vehicles are parked by the Mosque.
There is no contact between Bosnian Serbs and the Muslims in this
year Bosnian Serbs started to return to Bocinja. At the moment
there are 110 returnees, and about 300 more want to come back.
"There is a tendency of increasing of return, especially
during this year because many Bosnian Serbs got orders for evictions
and they have to leave occupied Bosniac or Bosnian-Croat houses
in Doboj, Teslic, Modrica," explained Jovanovic. "Taking
into consideration that they are (displaced persons) in these
municipalities and mostly without employment and insurance in
the Federation, they have no other solution than returning to
Only one person has a job in the village. Jovanovic added that
the presence of SFOR is still needed in the village to maintain
The return process in this locality is supported by the Dutch
Government. They financed reconstruction of 23 houses in Bocinja
Donja. Cross Roads International (CRI), a Swedish organization,
also reconstructed a few houses in Krsno Polje.
For now, they are waiting for approval of the reconstruction project
to rebuild 100 more houses.
Related links: SFOR
Nations of SFOR: Turkey,