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Second cornerstone ceremony

By Cpl. Nicolas Girault
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001

Monday June 18, the rebuilding of Ferhadija’s mosque started in Banja Luka. Discreetly, SFOR was there; plans of action were ready to prevent excesses like those of May 7 (See SFOR Informer no. 113). A Bosniac was killed and then several others seriously injured. Among the deployed forces was the Portuguese Operational Reserve.

Monday morning, the bus from Knesevo (ex-Skender Vakuf) is a few kilometres from Banja Luka. It runs along the Vrbas river for ten minutes, when passengers notice a Portuguese APC (Armoured Personal Carrier) parked on the roadside. In the Chaimite V-200, the crew picked out this bus and another one; they inform the “Check Point 2” which control vehicles entering Banja Luka.
Located at the town’s entry, at the roads coming from the south’s junction, Check Point 2 is also Cpt. Joao Santana‘s command post. Santana is the commander for the Portuguese action plan. It is the place where the two buses are expected to stop at a roadblock.
The buses park on the verge. They are checked one after the other. Portuguese cavalryman with an interpreter climb on board and ask the drivers and passengers where they come from and where are they going. Then, drivers open the boot for a military check, to look for weapons.
As the bus continues on, Santana explains: “If more Bosniacs had been in the vehicle, they would have been sent back.”
SFOR ready for intervention
Gen. Rick Hillier, MND-SW commander, gave PDSS (Person Designated with a Special Status) status to Bosniac officials attending the ceremony. This status permits SFOR to intervene, where and when it needs to, to protect people without waiting for any request of local authorities or the International Community.

Decisive action of the Bosnian-Serb police
Contrary to the first Ferhadija’s ceremony, Republika Srpska’s authorities and local police showed professional skills in maintaining law and order. Its action did not require SFOR’s intervention, even though SFOR was ready.
This operation needed the deployment of 2200 policemen, i.e. about a third of RS Minister of Interior’s forces. A part of these forces ensured the security of participants and officials (United Kingdom and United States ambassadors, RS officials, BiH government members…); the other part were anti-riot units. They were forced to use water cannons and teargas to face about a thousand of hostile demonstrators. Fifteen police officers were injured during the riot. Police informed the UNMIBH that it arrested 97 people and that other arrests were planned. During the night, 50 police officers guarded the mosque site.
All the International Community commended the RS police action. OHR added that “the leadership of the RS had to enforce their programme on democratisation, reconciliation, education of the police and of the wider public – in particular the youth.” Mr. Wolfgang Petritsch also expects that the RS “will actively support the return process (…) and supporting the common state institutions of BiH, as specified in the GFAP.

The Stabilisation Force is ready and determined to intervene as soon as the first problem arises. A heavy but very discreet plan of action had been set up. Each contingent had its own tasks: Brits together with Italian and Slovenian Multinational Specialised Unit (MSU) must intercede and question. The Canadian’s task is to organise the possible evacuation of the ceremony’s participants. The Czechs must secure the other contingent’s actions. The Portuguese with the British Queen’s Dragon Guard Regiment and Bugojno’s Dutch Engineers had to form a cordon all around Banja Luka.
To cut off the town if needed
Santana said: “We were the first to be deployed and we will be the last to leave the town.” This is the Operational Reserve’s second mission. The first time, they “showed the flag,” they were deployed from Sunday June 17, 14.30. So, from midnight, they had to check vehicles entering the town. “If SFOR intervenes, we will establish a road block to isolate Banja Luka from the rest of the country,” Santana added.
Observation points were placed on all the access roads to the town, in order to inform checkpoints located on all the town’s gates. At Check Point 8, placed in the north, Portuguese Lt. Fernando Ribeiro said: “we were informed about the possible arrival of young Bosnian-Serb extremists by bus.” In the south SFOR are waiting for Bosniac extremists.
It seems that the Operational Reserve action was a deterrent, because no external extremists tried to force their way into Banja Luka. So, RS police had only to deal with demonstrators, all from the town. And the policemen always kept the situation under control, as planned.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Portugal
SFOR at Work