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Joint Patrol in Bocinja Donja

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.

Bocinja 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
During 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 village.
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 politicians.
Before 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.
On 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 village.
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 their houses."
Only one person has a job in the village. Jovanovic added that the presence of SFOR is still needed in the village to maintain security.
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.

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Nations of SFOR: Turkey, Poland