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Bocinja: back to peace

By 2nd Lt. Alexandre Barb
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001

The SFOR patrol base called “Raven” closed June 20, after six months of it being in existence. It was set up by the Nordic-Polish Battle Group (NPBG) to ensure a safe and secure environment for Bosnian-Serbs returning and rebuilding their pre-war homes. This closure is a clear sign in favour of the return process. There is no tension.

The situation in Bocinja

before the war
3,500 inhabitants, majority of Bosnian-Serbs
1,800 cattle
3 shops
1 primary school
1 cultural centre
1 telephonic centre
today
7 houses occupied by Bosniacs, about 30 people
26 houses occupied by 34 Bosnian-Serb families, about 110 people
1 telephonic line: Bocko Jovanovic

Bocinja Donja – The sun flooded the sky. Only a zephyr could sweep up the yard of the Polish base called “Raven” (the Polish name for Eole, king of the winds in the Greek mythology). Has peace come back to Bocinja? Polish Col. Franciszek Kochanowski, commanding the Nordic-Polish Battle Group (NPBG), is convinced of it. That’s why he decided, with the agreement of Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, commanding Multinational Division – North (MND-N), to close the patrol base. Many arguments point in his favour.
“Six months of SFOR presence resulted in great progress,” declared Col. Kochanowski to American Col. Barry Fowler, MND-N Chief Of Staff. First of all, it allowed the re-settlement of several Bosnian-Serbs. Then this operation became a great success. Finally, the time has come to create a normal civilian life. Removing soldiers will mean that it’s a safe place,” he argued.
These three points need explanation. As for the re-settlement of Bosnian-Serbs, the allusion to the ceremony of March 15 (SFOR Informer no. 109) is very clear. That day, many organisations, among which the Office of the High Representative, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and SFOR, symbolically handed back the keys of 18 houses to families of displaced persons and refugees. It marked the beginning of the returns in this village which had been “given” as an award at the end of the war to fundamentalist foreigner fighters. Since then, only one man had succeeded in settling in the village in May 2000, Bocko Jovanovic, now the Bosnian-Serbs villagers’ spokesperson.
A troubled past
Indeed, the return and the implementation of the former Bosnian-Serb inhabitants of the village hasn’t been easy. Last January, thanks to a political change at the head of Maglaj municipality, and according to the texts gathered in the Property Law Implementation Plan, evictions of illegal occupants began, sometimes without trouble. At that time, the Polish B Coy was keeping the base. It handed over this duty to A Coy in April. Month by month, the checkpoints at the entrance and the exit of the village were removed. The number of soldiers decreased, as well as patrols.
“Now, we spend 10 days on the base with 13 soldiers and we perform six patrols a day, among which two are night patrols. These patrols are made up of three patrols in our Honkers (Polish Jeep) and three foot patrols,” stressed Warrant Officer Gregory Nicinski, Base Commander. However, seven houses are still occupied by Bosniacs, but this time legally, because they bought them from their former Bosnian-Serbs owners. A Coy has a three-team rotation per month on the base, which is based at the former primary school of the village.
Concrete projects
According to Kochanowski, the primary school should soon be back to life, filled with children. Bocko Jovanovic wants to restore it, as well as the former cultural centre. That would have as a direct effect, to definitely settle the Bosnian-Serb families in the village, and to allow others to come back. Bocko Jovanovic declared in late March that “more than 260 families want to re-settle in the village.”
In this context, the withdrawal of the Polish troops will allow them to rebuild a “normal” civilian life. The Bosnian-Serb villagers were quite reluctant about that decision in the beginning, but they finally accepted it after the Poles set up an information campaign on this topic. It seems that there is no trouble remaining in Bocinja.
Stay operational
But that withdrawal decision was also dictated for operational reasons. Indeed, the NPBG is engaged in guarding the weapon storage site (WSS) of the Bosnian-Croat component of the Federation Army (VF-H) called Tatrbuzak (SFOR Informer no.115). The closure of Raven Base will also allow an operational company to get back to other duties.
“We have good co-operation with Bocinja local police and the International Police Task Force. In the beginning, the local police stayed behind SFOR. Now, they do a very good job. Among the 20 local officers, five are Bosnian-Serbs,” Kochanowski mentioned. “However, during the month after our withdrawal, we’ll lead enhanced patrols in co-operation with the CIMIC. If nothing happens, we’ll decrease these patrols. I think that the rebuilding process will go quickly and smoothly,” he concluded.
The Bosnian-Serb community of the village has now to find the necessary funds to rebuild the houses, the school and the cultural centre. There are a lot of projects. There were few people who would have dared to think that Bocinja would live again one day with its former inhabitants. That dream is within reach.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Poland
SFOR at Work
DPRE