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European journalists tour SFOR operations

By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#110, April 4, 2001

Sarajevo - Nine journalists from places including Russia, France, Austria and Finland visited the Sarajevo area March 22 as part of a four-day tour.
The first day of the tour was spent in Brussels, followed by a day at SHAPE and finally ending here.
"The visit was a part of a NATO tour which is sponsored by the US Mission to NATO, for what we call the 'peace-keeping journalists,'" said US Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Cahill, military liaison officer for US Mission to NATO. "They are specifically interested in peacekeeping operations and peacekeeping duties, and that's what they write about mostly. Their embassies helped sponsor them to come to NATO.
The journalists' visit to the Sarajevo area began with political and operational updates at the Coalition Press Information Centre (CPIC) at Tito Barracks. They also attended the bi-weekly SFOR and the international community press conference.
Once the morning's briefing sessions were over, the group was treated to lunch with the German Battle Group at Rajlovac.
Lunch was followed by a tour of the German Field Hospital. There, the journalists were briefed on the Germans' mission and saw how the emergency room and intensive care units operate. After the hospital tour, the group witnessed a demonstration by the Cougar Platoon.
The soldiers stayed around to answer questions about their mission and equipment.
"I've never had a chance to see equipment this close up," said Iona Dumitrescu, Romanian State Television international news editor. "It's very nice to see people so friendly and willing to share everything with us."
Cahill said one of the goals of the visit was to allow the journalists an up-close and personal view of the operations.
"The purpose is to expose them to what NATO is doing from the ground level, so they're not just getting (it) from people who are in high-level positions," he said. "They're actually spending the day here with German forces seeing what they do with CIMIC and all the other different operations that are going on.
"So even though the US Mission to NATO is co-sponsoring this, we're not just showing US forces. We're showcasing what NATO is doing," Cahill explained.
He added that he felt it was important to give the visitors a first-hand look at what's going on through actually seeing it instead of just attending numerous briefings.
"The soldiers are what's important," Dumitrescu said. "They stay here between six months and a year dealing with crisis situations, this is the most important part of (our) trip."
One of the journalists expressed her pleasure in seeing the vast difference time has brought. Yrsa Grune, a foreign news editor from Finland, was in Srebrenica in 1996 as a reporter. She said she came on this trip to get acquainted with the NATO-led SFOR stabilisation mission.
Grune said one of the reasons for Finland's interests in the area was the concern of border crossings.
"It's not a 'hot spot' in that sense anymore because of the war," she said. "What's really now a big concern for people in the Nordic countries is the concern about the illegal immigrants." She added that about 50,000 immigrants came from BiH last year alone.
"When you get into one of these countries you can move in that area freely," Grune said. "It's a concern because then you have to secure the border."
Grune also said she came for personal reasons, so she could update her knowledge of the area and SFOR operations.
"I knew a lot about it from before, things change," she said. "It's a big change because everything was more or less rubble then." When Grune was in BiH before, SFOR hadn't yet been implemented. IFOR had just gotten under way.
Dumitrescu seconded Grune's view that things have changed. She expressed her hopes for future relations with the people of BiH.
"I would say that I'm hoping that the moment the international forces (leave) the area they would find a way to live in peace as they did years ago," she said. "I'm optimistic, this is the best part of the trip because they changed my point of view."
No matter the view with which the journalists left, Cahill said he wanted them to form their own opinions and not have something drilled into their heads by officials.
"We're exposing countries to what NATO is doing but we're also giving them an opportunity to ask a lot of questions and hear from the people who make NATO tick," he explained. "We guide them to the source and then we let them look at what we offer and make critical judgement. Then they're able to make that judgement with the proper information.
"This is the real deal … and the journalists know that," he said.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Germany