By 2nd Lt. Alexandre Barb
First published in
SFOR Informer#115, June 13, 2001
As hes about to leave the theatre after more
than a one-year tour, Maj. Gen. Roger Duburg, DCOMSFOR, gave an
exclusive interview to the SFOR Informer. He mentioned
the political and military situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
as well as the future he foresees for the country.
SFOR Informer Sir, you now reach
the end of your one-year tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As DCOMSFOR,
what is your global estimation of the progress made since you
took that position?
Maj. Gen. Duburg, DCOMSFOR That question would
lead me to think that theres a link from cause to effect between
my appointment and the progresses made; fortunately, it is not.
So, I think that its a very difficult question to answer. Progress
has been achieved, for sure, but not always as fast as we had
hoped. Our global feeling wavers between satisfaction regarding
true success and frustration in front of slow progress in certain
In concrete terms, what is the progress?
I cant directly answer your question, because
we are still influenced by last springs events that clearly showed
that not everybody is ready for reconciliation. The events in
Herzegovina first, but also more recently in Trebinje and Banja
Luka, do show that belonging to an ethnic group is one of the
first criteria that determines the behaviour of many people here.
Did you anticipate such violence?
No. The demonstrations didnt surprise us, but
we were amazed by the quick mobilisation of the demonstrators
in Mostar during the first operation toward the bank (the Hercegovacka
Banka), as well as in other places. We didnt foresee the scale
of such reaction, because we thought that, six years after the
peace agreement, things had cooled down.
What role can SFOR play in resolving such
When I arrived here, all the international organisations
thought that the presence of SFOR was still essential, but I wasnt
sure of it at all. Today, I am, unfortunately, convinced of it.
The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is stable, but far from
being stabilised. Our presence, and sometimes our action, is essential
to the continuation of the work of international organisations
in charge of the civilian aspects of the peace agreement.
The downsizing of many contingents, American,
Russian or German, has been the main topic of recent discussions.
Is SFOR still able to fulfil its mission efficiently?
is the answer, with a doubt, as the downsizing is not the result
of coincidences but of well thought-out and long-planned measures.
In todays situation, you only know too late when youve been
too far. But, if I can put your mind at ease, SFOR can efficiently
fulfil its mission after that downsizing. These reductions are
firstly adjustments of units, materials or heavy equipment that
are no longer needed here.
Do these adjustments mean that other troop
reductions are conceivable?
Is another downsizing possible today? No, since
we couldnt reduce more. But it would be desirable. At the end,
SFOR must completely leave the country. The question is when,
and at what rate? Thats a problem that was issued during the
recurring six-month review, by the NATO hierarchy and, as a final
decision, by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and its ministers.
If a new crisis arose in the Balkans, for
example in Macedonia, what would be the strategic choices?
Thats first of all a political matter. More
and more we notice that the latest events in Macedonia are followed
with attention by the international community, NATO and the European
Union. The numerous visits that Lord Robertson (NATO secretary
general) and Javier Solana (in charge of the Foreign and Common
Security Policy of Europe) paid to Skopje, do show that we dont
To show a general overview, are you optimistic
for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and, in general, for
the future of south-eastern Europe?
I spent three years in the former Yugoslavia,
and I always try carefully not to be optimistic or pessimistic,
or to bear a judgement about people. One can be frustrated, unhappy,
impatient or sometimes, on the contrary, enthusiastic. These are
emotional reactions that dont help to solve the problems. I also
think that we sometimes forget too quickly that the citizens of
Bosnia and Herzegovina got through a dreadful war, during which
about five percent of the population physically disappeared.
A high percentage of that population left the
country, maybe never to return, and half of the people are displaced
persons. They are persons whom we cant blame (for trying) to
forget all what they lived through. I would say that the way they
survive now is the consequence of these years of drama. The only
acknowledgement that we can make is that, our involvement, the
involvement of the international community in the civilian aspect
of the peace agreement, is still essential.
For you personally, sir, what is the best
memory of your tour?
I dont have any particular memory during this
year; but the most impressive thing that I have seen during this
tour is the camaraderie that links SFOR soldiers within the headquarters,
and the meetings that we have with each other in the field, either
with members of SFOR, international organisations or citizens
of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I also had some sad moments when I
went to see exhumation sites or visit displaced persons that try
to set up again and live in wretched poverty. In these moments
you ask yourself questions about our role and about the relative
success of our mission.
We always try at the SFOR Informer
to be as close as possible to the soldiers in the field. Did you
not feel, here in Butmir, cut off from the troops?
No I dont have that feeling, because, not only
me of course, but also COMSFOR and his main deputies, we often
travel, we meet a lot of soldiers and we have permanent and direct
links with the divisions. So no, I dont have that feeling, but
you should ask the soldiers on the ground.
The General Framework Agreement for Peace
in Bosnia and Herzegovina (GFAP) states that one of the tasks
of SFOR is to negotiate with the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Hasnt it been particularly difficult in these latest months?
indeed. But it has been a full success: all the efforts of the
international community, and those of SFOR in particular, prevented
the Croat military component of the Federation Army (VF-H) to
intervene in that eminently political issue. It was nothing else
but an attempt of secession or divorce within the Federation.
We managed to convince the Bosnian-Croat military that they should
stay out of that question. Since the very first day, we gave our
support to the legitimate government of the Federation, issued
after the elections of Nov. 11, 2000. This country is actually
living in the first democratic transition of its recent history.
We must support that evolution and support those who occupy, at
the moment, the key positions; otherwise the nationalist parties
will come back, with all the drifting off and the dramatic consequences.
The professionalisation is one among the qualities
that you expect from the armed forces. What do you mean by this
We can hope the soldiers should be less sensitive
to emotions and nationalist passions, and I also mean the important
downsizing of troops. Firstly, because Bosnia and Herzegovina
is at peace, then because the country doesnt face any military
threat to its borders. Finally, because it doesnt have the financial
resources to support a military instrument both too numerous and
of which the usefulness remains to be defined.
General, you have often been seen in the field
with many representatives of international organisations, recently
in Bijeljina; how is SFOR working with the international community?
The mission of SFOR is to further the action
of civilian organisations in civilian aspects. So co-ordination
is the first virtue to be cultivated in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Especially with the multiplication of organisations whose mandates
and missions often tie up. The more we meet each other, the more
we are co-ordinated, the more we develop our mutual links, and
the results for the local population will be better.
Carla Del Ponte, International Criminal Tribunal
for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prosecutor, regularly criticises
SFOR for its lack of eagerness to arrest the Persons Indicted
For War Crimes (PIFWCs); she even wants to set up a special team
of policemen. What would your answer be to her about that?
Please let me make three comments about this:
firstly, it belongs to the authorities of this country to arrest
the indicted persons. Ive noticed the total lack of co-operation
of these authorities, as the total lack of success in their mission.
If there are people to be criticised, there are first of all those
who are in charge of that mission. Secondly, SFOR is the only
organisation that really made any arrests. Thirdly, I would simply
say that they are people who know the problems and shut up for
understandable reasons of security and mission efficiency, and
those who are not aware at all and try to maintain wrong debates.
As for SFOR, isnt the short length of a tour
(four or six months) a heavy handicap in that field as in others?
Cant we imagine, on an assumption that SFOR will remain here
for many years, longer appointments?
As for the units in the field, I think that everyone
agrees to say that four or six months is a good period. We mustnt
forget that these soldiers live in operational conditions in sometimes
relative comfort, and in dangerous conditions, now softened. On
the other hand, some key positions require knowledge, relationships
and trust in the representatives of the international organisations,
or the authorities of the country. As for the headquarters officers,
I think that they should stay longer. I think that one year is
a good period. Personally, I didnt see many changes through the
year. At the same time, one must turn over. Otherwise the routine
sets in, and with it weariness and cynicism.
Tomorrow, sir, you will definitely leave the
theatre. What would be your last message to the men and women
There will be two, if you agree. The first one
is that you have to be convinced that our presence is not only
useful but also essential. That usefulness is not necessarily
immediately perceptible; but the spring events did show once more
that the presence of an international force to the service of
law was still, unfortunately, essential in this part of the world.
My second message is to be careful not to judge.
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have just lived through a
horrible war. Five years after, the fighting has stopped, but
the war goals of some and of others were not necessarily achieved.
The nationalist leaders are still active. We must give our simple
help to reconciliation I dont mean to forget, but to reconcile
in order that Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a state, lives in peace.
Related links: Commanders
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