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Operation Harvest makes progress theatre-wide

By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001

The collecting of weapons and other explosive ordnance throughout BiH is an ongoing process. The country has, for the most part, taken on this responsibility from SFOR.
Camp Butmir - Tens of thousands of weapons, ammunition and explosives have been collected from citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past three years - more than 18,000 last year alone.
The SFOR plan that set this in motion, Operation Harvest, has yielded great results since its inception in 1998. And with each passing year, law-abiding members of the community have turned in more and more illegal weapons.
"Operation Harvest is a project that was initiated by SFOR back in 1998 to remove from circulation in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina (illegal) weapons and ammunition and explosive ordnance which can be dangerous for the population," said Greek 1st Lt. Alexandros Letsas, Joint Operations Planning plans officer.
When Operation Harvest was initiated in 1998, it only went on for a couple of months during the year. It went on for most of 1999 and in 2000 and 2001, it has been a year-round effort.
Various collection sites or turn-in points were set up throughout the country where illegal weapons could be handed over.
"Our mission here is to provide a safe and secure environment and by removing all these weapons, this is a part of our mission," Letsas said. "By removing (them) from private holding, we make people's lives more secure."
According to Letsas, SFOR was in charge of collection the first year, but since 2000 the responsibility has been handed over to the local authorities and the Armed Forces in BiH. "We're trying to make local authorities take charge of this process and, in most cases, this is happening," he said.
Soldiers from battle groups throughout the three multinational divisions (MND's), along with the International Police Task Force (IPTF), monitor this process. After the weapons, ammunition and dangerous ordnance are collected; SFOR and IPTF make sure that they are destroyed.
The passing of an amnesty law provided the incentive as well as protection for those who were willing to come forward and turn in their illegal weapons. This law ensured that people would not be arrested when they handed their weapons over. Letsas said that one challenge has been that while the Federation passed the amnesty law, Republika Srpska did not.
So far this year, even the Federation has not passed the amnesty law, but Letsas said it still might happen.
Even though the law has not been implemented this year, Letsas said there has not been a decline in the turning in of weapons and ammunitions. The rate has remained steady. However, it is still too early to determine what the trend is or will be.
Tremendous progress has been made over the years and Letsas said that he hopes it continues. "People will hand over some but keep some, the thing is to really persuade them to hand over all their weapons," he said.
Currently, Letsas said he knows Operation Harvest will continue throughout 2001, but he is uncertain how much longer it will continue. At the end of the year, all the MND's and various branches within the Headquarters of SFOR will be involved with an assessment that will determine if this project will continue in 2002.
"I think what we are waiting for is to see … the trend to see if there's a decrease or increase and that's when a decision will be made," Letsas concluded.

Related links: SFOR at Work
Project Harvest