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Providing comfort. Ambassadors in MND SW

By Cpl. Nicolas Girault
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001

For the fourth time in three years, the Multinational Division SW welcomed the Ambassadors' trip. The selected sites were chosen as areas of return for displaced persons: Halapic village in Glamoc Municipality (Federation, Canton 10), and Radic village, in Bosanska Krupa Municipality (Federation, Canton 1).

Podgrmec - The American Blackhawk helicopter is landing in a field, soon followed by a second one and a Bell; helmeted and armed Czech soldiers are present. At the field exit, Federation police officers are waiting near their vehicles. The delegation begins their journey, and after two or three kilometres, are welcomed by about 100 people. Their feelings visibly oscillate between curiosity and enthusiasm. The ambassadors stop in Podgrmec. hamlet near Radic village (in Bosanska Krupa Municipality). It is the second and final stage of this day.
That same morning, a helicopter flew them from Butmir camp, and the group arrived at 12:50 in Halapic village, about eight kilometres from Glamoc. Firmly flanked by Canadian soldiers, they were welcomed by the chief of the Drvar's Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Daniel Alkhal. He summarized the social, political and humanitarian situation of both the municipality and the village. Then the local Mayor, the CIMIC unit from Tomislavgrad and Alkhal presented their points of view about the local situation and problems about the settling in of returnees in Halapic. After these talks, thanks to the interpreters, the delegation were able to meet the local people and ask questions.
Symbolic areas
Halapic is the area, which has the best results for minority returns in Glamoc Municipality. The opstina is unfortunately better known for the harassing, and sometimes violence (notably in August 2000 and May 2001), against the few returnees returning to their pre-war homes.
The village was populated with 80 families, mostly Bosnian-Serb, before the war. The returns started in 1998: 40 families came back, 29 from Republika Srpska and 11 from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
UNHCR and SFOR facilitated these returns, through the CIMIC office of Tomislavgrad (ex-Duvno), thanks to the resupply of electricity to the area. Maj. Gen. John Kiszely, Deputy Commander of SFOR for Operations (DCOMOPS), declared that "(he) came in this area which was desolated in 1996, and today (he) can see people coming back and rebuilding the community. It is not perfect, of course, but it is a beginning." He insisted on the fact that the returns were possible thanks to the "safe and secure environment provided by SFOR." The recent decision to reduce the area of the Resolute Barbara Range is moving in the appropriate direction (See article in this issue).
Mr Luis Barreira de Sousa, from the Embassy of Portugal, said that the scene here was the same as everywhere: "like in Drvar, at first, old people are coming back first, followed by the youngsters, and then the economic activities can start again." To change the population of an area modifies the political landscape. Displaced persons returning to their pre-war homes does not count for much, because they do accept being treated as an inferior minority.
An important day
The Podgrmec’s situation is different; B-Serbs who left the area were chased out during the Croatian offensive in 1995; returns are only now beginning. The population is comprised of ten local communities in nine villages and several hamlets of the area. John Glarebrook, chief of OHR office for the South West BiH, explained the stake of the return in the area: "by returning to Bosanska Krupa, they leave behind empty houses in Srebrenica and Bratunac (Eastern Republika Srpska) areas, that their legal owners will be able to occupy anew. Each return here affects two families in fact."
Way of life is very precarious there; Ambassadors were invited to visit shelters, made with composite compressed materials covered with a concrete slab. People sleep on camp beds and pallets. Last winter, some families were obliged to return to the houses they occupied in the eastern part of the RS. Other families received containers as provisional housing. Despite the lack of space and privacy, comfort is better.
As far as it concerns the visitors, Louis Michel Mboana, chief of UNHCR field office in Bihac, said that it was "an encouraging visit for those who work in the field, but also for the inhabitants in creating a confident climate and to hasten the return of people who still hesitate". Glarebrook added "the local population sees that important people are interested in them".
But as Roger Brawnt, chief of the Banja Luka's Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) office, said: "All those people are happy to see us today, but tomorrow might be difficult, because it will be a long time before they notice changes."
However Barreira De Sousa explained that "this trip permits us to take time to meet the International community and Non Governmental Organisations (NGO's), and to know the situation in these villages. When I hear about these areas, I will have a more precise picture of the situation." He added that "the NGO's approach us and we can provide funds with better knowledge of what they are for." The idea is to gain ground in helping these villages and create a nucleus, which will permit us to extend the movement in areas all around.
He concluded in emphasizing that "SFOR is reducing its budgets, but I hope that it will not hamper this kind of initiative."

Related links: Humanitarian Aid, SFOR at Work