No problem too small

Capt. Russell Craig
First published in
SFOR Informer#137, April 25, 2002

Whilst on patrols in the Bratunac and Srebrenica areas March 21 - 22, members of the Finnish Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Centre Two’s Team Three dealt with the variety problems that face returnees in these areas.

Bratunac - Everyday, CIMIC Team Three travels hundreds of kilometres, over poor roads and dirt tracks, to achieve its mission. The team carries out a multitude of tasks as it follows its guiding framework.
"We work closely with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), we meet with local people, either in CIMIC centres, or in private meetings. We are in constant contact with each other (SFOR and UNHCR) through meetings and mail," said CIMIC Team Leader Capt. Anssi Murto.
Murto explained that with this information, the UNHCR is better equipped to co-ordinate its efforts, and aid, for the returnees. The CIMIC team also helps this process by providing briefings and tours for Non Governmental Organisations that seek to aid returnees in their area of responsibility.
Day to Day
To achieve this mission, the Finnish soldiers have to deal with a variety of problems, the returnee community at Suha is an example of this. Here the Finnish government has donated materials for the reconstruction of houses and roads; the returnees do the work.
"Fifteen houses have been cleaned and are ready for reconstruction. The returnees removed all the furnishings, everything has been taken away, down to the foundations. Local firms built the donated roads, we monitor the progress," said Capt. Kalle Puolanne, CIMIC officer.
As part of the monitoring process, the team talked to the community leader. He told the CIMIC officers that many of the bricks for the reconstruction were broken. Puolanne said he would look into it, however, he promised nothing.
"We only make a promise, if we can give it. We seldom have what they (the returnees) ask for, or it will take a while to get. We do not make promises that we cannot keep. They have had enough empty promises. Therefore they trust us," said Murto.
Trust is a key factor in persuading displaced persons and refugees, DPREs, to return to their original locale. In Bjelovac, lush, sun-bathed meadows resound to the sound of bees, however, amongst the grass, lurks danger.
"There have been six mine incidents in the last 11 months, all involving returnees. We had to work hard to get a de-mining team for this area. Now a Republika Srpska Army de-mining unit is working here, and should be finished soon…(the houses) here are harder to visit, we can only take one road," said Puolanne.
Work in other areas is less dangerous but just as challenging. In a small community near Bratunac, Puolanne listened to the village's representative, Smajil Hadzic, as he outlined the returnees' situation. Hadzic explained that CIMIC has been instrumental in improving the roads in the village, although the returnees still face overcrowding until they rebuild more houses. Yet again Puolanne listened, replied with what he would do, but made no promises.
Winning Team
Puolanne explained that the Finnish CIMIC team have good people skills, as 70 percent of them are reserve officers. In civilian life, many of them are police officers or teachers and are used to dealing with diverse communities. Their tactics appear successful.
"We are satisfied with CIMIC, and thankful to the Finnish Government. CIMIC repaired the roads. I have only good things to say about CIMIC…others promised a lot and then did n't do anything. The CIMIC team has made no promises, but we are very satisfied with the end result," said Hadzic.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Finland

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Photos: PO Andy Gedge

Finnish CIMIC officers chat to a local spokesperson.

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A CIMIC Interpreter (in uniform) with two returnees of the Simic family.

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The signs of the fighting still remain.