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VRS Army guards SFOR

By Lt. Oystein Paulsen
First published in
SFOR Informer #70, 15 Sept, 1999.

Gacko- In the small town of Gacko, some 30 kilometres east of Nevesinje in Multinational Division South East (MND-SE), Spanish and French SFOR soldiers are working side by side with soldiers from the VRS Army in a Civil Military Co-operation (CIMIC) operation led by the Divisional CIMIC Battalion. The two-week operation is called "Skupa 1", and the purpose is to give humanitarian aid and to rebuild infrastructure in Gacko and surrounding villages.

Most of the SFOR soldiers are engineers and medical personnel, while the VRS soldiers are responsible for the security in the temporary CIMIC-camp, established for the operation some ten kilometres outside the town centre of Gacko. "The VRS Army is also supporting our engineers with two trucks and two truck-drivers," said Lt. Col. Jean-Luc Faivre, deputy commander of the CIMIC Battalion in Mostar. The co-operation between the CIMIC Battalion and the VRS Army was arranged after Maj. Gen. Arnold Schwerdorffer, the MND-SW Divisional Commander, ordered his Division to start work with the Entity Armed Forces. "We were planning the CIMIC operation in Gacko, and decided to try to get the VRS Army involved in the project," said Lt. Col. Faivre.

A total of about 60 soldiers are attached to the CIMIC force based in Gacko, 34 Spanish engineers from the Multinational Engineer Battalion in Mostar, 15 French support personnel, four CIMIC personnel and ten VRS Army soldiers. "This CIMIC-project is really interesting, especially when we are talking about the fact that we have ten VRS Army soldiers attached to the force. The co-operation is excellent, and there are no problems at all, except from the language. But we have two interpreters," Lt. Col. Faivre added.

Maj. Angel Aparicio is leading Tactical CIMIC Team number 5, the CIMIC-team in charge of the operation in Gacko. "While we are in Gacko, we try to do as much as possible to help the locals, so we have several projects in the town itself and in the neighbouring villages. In co-operation with the VRS-soldiers we have amongst others rebuilt a local road, and we have distributed some humanitarian aid such as clothes, food and water to returnees in the area. We have also repaired the water supply system in a school, and given out school materials like pencils and notebooks to another school," said Maj. Aparicio. With the help of a French doctor and a Moroccan and a Spanish dentist, the CIMIC team has also been able to give medical attention. "We have prioritised small villages outside Gacko, where the villagers very rarely receive any medical attention," added Aparicio.