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The operation in MND-SE

By 1st Lt. Javier Donesteve
First published in
SFOR Informer#111, April 18, 2001

Mostar - A major part of the activity and nearly all the violent response against the April 6 operation of OHR, IPTF and SFOR personnel took place in Multinational Division - Southeast area of responsibility (AOR). Specifically, the action took place in five of the eight branch offices of Herzegobacka Banka, located in Cantons 7 (Mostar and Medjugorje) and 8 (Posusje, Siroki Brijeg and Grude).
Troops from the French and Spanish battle groups, both based in Mostar, were involved, as well as the Moroccan Battalion (Divisional Organic Element) and the Multinational Specialised Unit (MSU). SFOR's task was to provide security in the surrounding areas of the bank branches where OHR, Federation and IPTF teams had to enter in order to obtain all the information needed.
The operation began at 7 a.m. The French carried out the task in Siroki Brijeg and Posusje. "Two infantry companies and the cavalry squadron took part," explained Capt. Jean Marie Delion, French Battle Group Headquarters. "The operation in Siroki Brijeg was completely successful. Everything had finished before the demonstrators had time to be organised."
On the other hand, resistance was found in Posusje. "To ensure the security of the international personnel, the area was evacuated. During this, some barricades had to be cleared with our VAB (French APC)," Delion said.
The Spanish Battle Group found many more problems in accomplishing their goals, especially in Mostar and Grude. The head office of the bank is in Mostar, and the OHR team needed several hours to find all the documentation and information in the archives and computers. In these hours, organised groups of people began to surround the building in a very aggressive attitude. Riots began.
The massive use of mobile phones signalled hundreds of people, "Ninety percent male from 15 to 25 years old," according to eyewitnesses. Stones and eggs were thrown at the international inspectors and their Carabinieri escort, who were also threatened and hit. They took refuge inside the bank, until the arrival of SFOR troops to escort their evacuation. During these events several inspectors and their escorts were injured.
When no one was left in the bank, the anger of the mob turned to Hotel Ero, where the Mostar OHR office is located on the fifth floor.
Ambassador Colin Munro, head of Mostar OHR, and 20 of his personnel were there, among them German Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jörg Lehman, MND-SE Public Information Office (PIO). "At 11 a.m. a press conference was held without any incident. Everything began later," he said. "The crowds began to turn cars upside down and place barricades. Other citizens tried to stop them, reproaching their attitude, but were hit with sticks. Even weapons were seen and shots heard. We were told that demonstrators were already inside the building. They were hours of great tension."
Two "representatives" of the organised thugs, one of them "a very arrogant and dominating female," told Munro to leave the offices with his staff in 10 minutes without taking any documentation. During the events, Dragan Mandic, Cantonal Minister of Internal Affairs, visited the office, "not to protect us, but as a mediator," Munro said.
The situation ended with the arrival of more SFOR troops. "At least 10 Spanish APC appeared. I will never forget the arrival of a young Spanish lieutenant and a female corporal to the fifth floor to escort us," Lehman remembered. "They showed a lot of calm, even receiving hundreds of stones from the mob. They proved a lot of professionalism." The evacuation was carried out with tension, but without incidents.
The situation in Grude was even uglier where a group of seven people from SFOR and the international community were trapped inside the bank. After many tense hours, they were released and evacuated.
The situation after the incidents is tense but calm. SFOR is guarding international organisation buildings such as OHR or OSCE as well as patrolling to ensure a safe and secure environment
The question remains about the performance of local police during the events. The Federation Ministry of Interior pressed charges April 12 against two police chiefs "for not doing enough to stop violence in Mostar and other towns." On another side, the IPTF commissioner has suspended 17 policemen for a month "for having lent their support to separatists living in their communities."

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