By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informerr#127, November 28, 2001
When the project began in the middle of September,
there was nothing in Tomici but the Velika Usora (Great Usora)
River dividing the village. Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish
Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) team and the local residents,
Baris Kprs bridge (literally, "Bridge of Peace")
was opened Nov. 23. The bridge will allow more than 70 Bosnian-Serb
families to return to their pre-war homes. The first step to rebuild
this local community has been made.
Tomici - Bridges have a special place in the heart
of the Slavic people. They symbolise permanence and continuity
under the contingencies of history. They serve as links between
heaven and earth, links between those who would otherwise be separated
by ethnicity, religion or race.
more, Baris Kprs will be vital in assisting displaced B-Serbs
in returning to their pre-war homes in Podjezera, Tomici, and
in Vidovici, Vjivorak and Toletinjac, located on the other side
of the Velika Usora River in Teslic municipality. Mountains stand
as sentries between these villages and each group tends to keep
to itself. The region is mostly deep forest and abandoned habitations
crumbling into dust. Some liveable houses are scattered in the
valley along the snaky dirt road leading to the bridge. The deep
snow accentuates the effect of a lifeless place. Most of the residents
evacuated their homes during the war. There
were approximately 185 houses in the area at that time. All inhabitants
were B-Serbs. Today, 50 houses have been reconstructed (11 by
HELP, 15 by Crossroads International and 24 by Mercy Corps). Some
80 houses are partially damaged and in need of repair as 120 families
are expected to return, according to the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR). Concerning Tomici, "250 people (58
families) have returned to their homes with their own efforts
and about 70 families are expected to return as soon as the problems
relating to the infrastructure problems will be solved,"
says Mile Vrekic, the mayor of the village. "The bridge will
allow people to rebuild houses on the both sides of the river
and will give them freedom of movement."
Deep in the mountains
B-Serb families are presently living as Displaced Persons (DP)
in Ruzevic, Stenjak, Gomjenica, Barici and other hamlets of Teslic.
Few of them have returned to Vidovici were HELP has some reconstruction
projects but the area is very poor. People are mostly living on
land, farming since the coal mine in Blatnica was closed. The
villages were supplied with water through individual wells before
the war but the water system is damaged. Vrekic Stanko has been
living on the Bank of the Velika Usora in Tomici for 66 years.
A former forester, he is now retired and earns a monthly pension
of 80 KM. For
his family he has water and electricity, which are considered
a luxuries in the village. Stanko confirms that everyday life
is not easy in this place. He lost three goats in a mine accident
and the river seriously damaged his house. Eventually, Turkish
Battalion came to help by diverting the river away from his home.
"In winter and spring the river can flow very quickly and
becomes impossible to cross," explains Turkish 1st Lt. Besim
Starting a new life
The opening of Baris Kprs was a great event in the village.
People appeared from all over the valley and gathered around the
bridge, despite the continuous snow. The mayor of Teslic, Gavro
Auvaric, was there in support and Stanko Vrekic had prepared some
Sljivovica (plum alcohol) for the occasion. Without this bridge
a part of Tomici was totally isolated. The village doesn't have
sufficient infrastructure and is still dependent on Blatnica.
All the children of the valley can now go the primary school of
1-8 grades. During the war four schools were destroyed in Jezera,
Kozila, Podjezero and Jasenica. The nearest health care centre,
where a doctor comes twice a week, is located in Blatnica, along
with a PTT office and an Orthodox church. Another church is under
construction in Tomici, but the rebuilding in the village is at
the beginning stages.
a family has made a decision to return and has re-established
a permanent presence in their pre-war home, the next most important
concern is to become economically sustainable. At times when the
economic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is poor and a job
is hard to find, projects aimed at creating job opportunities
for returnees are an important in helping re-establish and stabilise
local communities. For that reason, the project was entirely funded
by the Turkish Brigade Humanitarian Fund, established in 1996
and consisting of volunteer donations from the Turkish soldiers
over the past five years (see SFOR Informer no. 123). This fund
has now reached an excess of 3.5 million KM. Some 45,000 KM has
been necessary for the bridge, built as a community project between
local residents and the Turkish engineers. Six soldiers worked
continuously from Sept. 16 to Nov.16, under the direction of Zengin.
"The time spent on the construction has reached 1,800 work
hours," he says. "The work became more and more difficult
as the winter was approaching."
As the inhabitants symbolically cross Peace Bridge under the snow,
Maj. Sezai Bykdag, CIMIC commander, savours the moment, proud
of his achievement. "I feel warm again, I'm not cold anymore,"
he says, and with a smile of satisfaction quotes Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic: "Peace at home,
peace in the world."
Related links: CIMIC
Nations of SFOR: Turkey