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Providing hope. Ambassadors in MND-SE

By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001

June 27, ambassadors from 22 countries assisting the return process, visited several key return sites. The delegation led by DCOMSFOR Major General François de Goësbriand, looked round Mostar and Visegrad resettlements. Senior representatives of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) along with several BiH authorities accompanied the delegations.

Mostar - The return of Displaced Persons and Refugees (DPRE) has a political and humanitarian dimension, which is vital in the reconstruction and consolidation of a normal society in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last year about 65,000 returnees came back to their previous pre-war homes.
Annex 7 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) declares the right of those people to return freely to their homes of origin. SFOR must assist the international organisations and provided the means to perform a journey across the whole Theatre. This was the fourth such tour, the first took place in Sept 13, 1999.
The delegation visiting the resettlements in Multinational Division south-east (MND-SE) was composed of six ambassadors from donors countries (the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Italy, Japan, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Republic of Slovenia and the Kingdom of Spain), UNHCR and OHR representatives, included the Deputy High Representative of the Reconstruction and Return Task Force (RTF) Jayson Taylor, who directed the group. Also the Republika Srpska (RS) Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons and the Federation Ministry of Social Affairs, Displaced Persons and Refugees joined the group. The delegation, headed by DCOMSFOR, had the opportunity to witness at first hand the progress made and find out the difficulties and challenges in the process, as well as the Property Law Implementation Plan (PLIP), (see SFOR Informer #116).
"It is necessary to show the close co-operation between the International Community, specially OHR, UNHCR, and SFOR. Participation within the GFAP is from a military aspect, but at the same time there are many problems to solve, especially concerning DPRE's, and SFOR's presence is quite necessary" said de Goësbriand.
Mostar Municipality
At 11:10 in the morning, one German CH-53 helicopter took off from Camp Butmir to Mostar Airport, where the International Military Police (Italian Carabineri, French Gendarmerie and Spanish Guardia Civil) set up a safety cordon. In addition the Spanish Battle Group was deployed, one Calvary Reconnaissance Vehicle (VEC) was posted at every junction of Mostar, in order to prevent any incident. Authorities travelled by bus to the Mostar Central Zone where Santica Street is situated. This old residential area on the banks of Neretva River, which was totally destroyed during the war, was the very centre of the confrontation line. The remains of the buildings stand as witness of the war. Within the debris, through the European Union, the Danish Refugee Council has rebuilt two apartments blocks, where 30 families (B-Croats, B-Serbs and Bosniacs) live in their pre-war homes. After an explanation of the project, visitors could talk to returnees and visit their homes, taking notice of the situation. There are plans to rebuild more homes very soon and funds are needed.
"With everybody's efforts, that is to say the BiH Government, the International Community, International Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations and SFOR, it is possible to set up the return environment. It is not the task of only one organisation," said the Ambassador ad interim of the Kingdom of Spain Diego Ruiz Alonso, a representative of one of the donor countries. "The SFOR role is very important, it is deployed over the field and knows at first hand the most important necessities and priorities. The IC have noticed a lot of problems thanks to SFOR, all this contributes to building a better environment" continued Ruiz.
Without a break, the ambassadors went to visit the "South Camp" Collective Centre consisting of 28 containers, where 23 Bosniac families live in dreadful conditions, lacking the minimum standard for human housing. Presented as a Collective Centre (CC) example, visitors could walk throughout the camp, checking the appalling conditions for themselves. Displaced people have been living there since 1994, waiting for a better place, their houses being either occupied or destroyed.
Visegrad Municipality
The next stop was the Gornja Crnca resettlement, in Visegrad Municipality, a city in Eastern RS. There, the Italian Company based in Rogatica provided security to the commission. The returnees' families, mainly elderly, live in collaboration and in community spirit. They share limited resources, living in collective accommodation. Up to 40 persons in the same house, of about 100 square metres. In the middle of the yard, authorities gave speeches, firstly the UNHCR representative about the situation in Visegrad area, which has a symbolic value in conjunction with the PLIP. He stressed the increase in the number of returnees; this year figures have reached 100 percent increase over the same period last year. UNHCR is trying to guarantee at least community accommodation while awaiting proper reconstruction of the houses. He also commented on the co-operation with the local police, the support of SFOR in de-mining and cleaning rubble, and showed gratitude to the donors while insisting on more funds being needed to continue the work.
The future
Then, The RS Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons, Mico Micic, said that the priorities of the RS government were “to provide better conditions to Returnees, co-operation with the Federal government, the construction of CC as alternative accommodation and the PLIP implementation”. His Ministry is about to agree to a contract with a firm to build several CCs, but the lack of material and financial support is the main obstacle. Finally, the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Displaced Persons and Refugees, Sefer Halilovic, complimented local authorities, highlighting that the returnees were totally safe there; the goal of his visit was to encourage returnees whatever their religion or "ethnic" groups were. He also insisted on the establishment of a "multi-ethnic" police force as one condition to return, spoke about Federation Plans to set up 12 regional centres to support DPRE's, and the holding of a conference on Saturday, June 30, in order to establish links and get more funds for this purpose.
The International Police Task Force (IPTF) commented that the security situation has improved and local police are performing a professional job. In addition they usually visit the sites in co-ordination with UNHCR.
After the visit the groups returned to Camp Butmir, with more knowledge about the return process.

Related links: Humanitarian Aid, SFOR at Work