- Approximately 31,000 SFOR troops are currently deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with contributions from all the NATO nations and, with Slovenia joining SFOR on 24th February 1997, from nineteen non-NATO countries. Concepts are now in place for the use and exercising of operational reserves from within the theatre and strategic reserves from outside the theatre in order to give the force enhanced flexibility and to reinforce its deterrent role.
- Over the past month, SFOR has continued to conduct area reconnaissance and surveillance through ground and air patrols across the region, and to make random inspections of cantonment sites. Increased patrolling has taken place in Mostar in the wake of last month's violence there, and SFOR, in cooperation with the United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF), has removed a number of illegal checkpoints in the city. Patrolling was also increased in a number of villages in and around the Zone of Separation (ZOS) as a result of recent violations by the Parties of the procedure established for the return of refugees.
Cooperation and Compliance by the Parties
- The Parties are assessed as continuing to be in general compliance with the military provisions of the Peace Agreement. However, as noted above, there has again been violence associated with the attempted return of refugees in the ZOS, and all Parties appear ready to use coercion to shift the ethnic balance in "their" areas, or to deter minority return.
- Since 21st February, SFOR troops conducted over 500 compliance inspections, and monitored over 150 authorized movement and training activities and over 70 de-mining activities by the Parties.
- The first phase of the temporary suspension of SFOR's confiscation policy for previously-undeclared arms (paragraph 4 of last month's report refers) came to an end on 15th February. The next step, which lasted until 15th March, was the approval process for the final storage sites of these weapons and ammunition. The last step, which required extension until 15th April, is the organized movement and monitoring of the weapons and ammunition. The total number surrendered is still being verified by SFOR, but the Parties have declared a wide range of weapons, including tanks, grenades, ammunition, small arms and mines.
- Prior to the Brcko arbitration decision on 14th February, SFOR imposed a temporary ban on training and movement activities conducted by the Parties' military units. This ban was lifted on 10th March, although the Parties still have to apply for permission to move and train their units. SFOR will examine each request individually before granting permission. Similarly, the ban on the call up of reservists, which was also imposed by SFOR in the lead-up to the Brcko decision, has now been lifted, although any Party wishing to call up reserves have to forward their request to SFOR 3 weeks in advance.
- With respect to Freedom of Return (FOR), there were serious disturbances over the reporting period associated with the return of refugees to the village of Gajevi, in the ZOS near Celic. These disturbances were triggered by the arrest of a Bosniac by the Bosnian Serb police on the 26th February. On 28th February, 4 Bosniac prefabricated houses in Gajevi were completely demolished by a series of explosions. Later that same day, 3 Bosnian Serbs were kidnapped and beaten by 15 armed Bosniacs, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of the Bosniac. In the early hours of 1st March the three were released and were taken to the SFOR position just outside Celic.
- On 2nd March, a group of around 150 Bosnian Serbs then moved into Gajevi from the nearby area of Koraj and set fire to 9 pre-fabricated Bosniac houses in the village. SFOR troops linked arms and blocked the crowd from destroying the two remaining pre-fabricated houses. Bosnian Serb police subsequently arrived on the scene, too late to prevent the destruction. Tensions escalated still further on 3rd March when approximately 50 Bosniacs gathered at the west end of the Gajevi bridge and prevented a small group of SFOR troops from crossing, demanding their return to their Headquarters. Subsequently, the SFOR troops, with IPTF assistance, succeeded in dispersing the crowd without further trouble.
- On 4th March, additional SFOR troops moved into the area, setting up a security cordon and imposing a Temporary Restricted Zone around Celic, Koraj and Gajevi. All resettlement and construction activity in Gajevi was prohibited for 7 days. However, at the end of that period, on 11th March, the last remaining Bosniac homes in Gajevi were set alight and destroyed by a crowd of around 30 Bosnian Serbs. The IPTF has now begun an investigation into the events in Gajevi.
- In a further development with respect to FOR, the Bosnian Serbs announced in early March, that Bosniac returnees in the Sapna Thumb area, near Zvornik, would be required to carry Bosnian Serb identity cards. The Bosnian Serb police began issuing the identity cards to Bosniacs living in the towns of Jusici, Dugi Dio and Mahala, and the Zvornik police chief was ordered to evict any resident not in possession of the card by 10th March. Although this procedure is in line with agreed ZOS resettlement procedures, Bosniac returnees to villages along the ZOS have insisted in the past on retaining their original ID cards. Aware of the potential for further tension, observers from SFOR and the IPTF supervised the Bosnian Serbs' delivery of the cards and persuaded Serb officials to give the Bosniacs more time to get the proper identification. Federation ID cards surrendered to the Bosnian Serb police will be handed over to the IPTF for final disposal.
- In Mostar, the situation remains tense but calm in the wake of last month's violent confrontations between Bosniacs and Bosnian Croats. Following the violence, SFOR 's presence in the city was strengthened, patrolling was increased and checkpoints introduced. SFOR continues to work closely with the IPTF in the city and on 9th March 9 illegal police checkpoints (8 Bosnian Croat and 1 Bosniac) were discovered and subsequently dismantled.
- The Parties have made some progress with respect to de-mining, and have complied with the decisions taken at the mid-January meeting of the Joint Military Comission, defining targets for de-mining activity. Since 21st February, over 70 de-mining activities were monitored by SFOR.
Cooperation with International Organizations
- SFOR continues to provide support within its capabilities to the international civil organizations in theatre. As noted above, there is close daily coordination with the IPTF. In addition, following the violence in Mostar, it was agreed that senior officials from SFOR, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the IPTF should meet daily in Sarajevo as a "Mostar Security Coordination Group". It was also agreed that there should be a joint 24-hour command post at the OHR office in Mostar. Building on existing operational liaison and communication arrangements, these initiatives have strengthened coordination and improved responsiveness.
- SFOR will establish a close working relationship with the new Deputy High Representative for Brcko appointed at the Brcko Implementation Conference in Vienna on 7th March. SFOR will also coordinate closely with the enhanced IPTF presence in Brcko and will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations involved in order to implement procedures for the phased and orderly return of refugees and displaced persons.
- SFOR continues to cooperate closely with the OSCE in its preparations for the municipal elections, which have now been moved to September 1997. SFOR will continue to support the OSCE in its role of ensuring compliance by the Parties of the corresponding commitments under the Peace Agreement. The temporary suspension of SFOR's weapons confiscation policy (referred to in paragraph 5 above) resulted in the declaration by the Parties of a number of weapons which fall under the responsibility of the OSCE. Once the figures involved have been fully verified, they will be provided separately by SFOR to the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.