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Providing help. Ambassadors in MND-N

By 2nd Lt. Bruno Ménard
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001

For the fourth time, Ambassadors from ten nations participated in the tour of return areas in Multi-National Division-North. This tour was jointly organized by SFOR, OHR and UNHCR to promote a greater understanding of the return process and the problems the returnees are facing.

There were 14 VIP's escorted by Turkish Capt. Radomir who flew in the Dutch Cougar helicopter. The aircraft took off at 11:02 from the helipad of Butmir, to make the journey to Gornje Kolibe, in Bosanski Brod/Srpski Brod Municipality, as the first destination. Over the green and brown landscape, a ballet of helicopters were flying towards the north.
June 27, ten Ambassadors assisted the return process by visiting key areas, such as Gornje Kolibe, an agricultural village, and Janja, a security hot spot, in MND-North. It was also an opportunity to draw the attention and resources of the International Community to promote the return of displaced persons and refugees (DPRE) to their pre-war homes, with the assistance of SFOR.
Welcoming committees from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and security forces were waiting for the delegation. Among them, Aida Babovic, the young interpreter from the UNHCR sub-office of Tuzla, welcomed the press, the Ambassadors and other officials escorted them to the waiting cars. The cars then headed towards Kolibe, which is the oldest Bosniac return area in Bosanski Brod/Srpski Brod municipality.
Model for co-existence
The convoy of white cars, with the two black letters 'UN' painted on the side doors, wormed its way on the badly dented roads, among the red-bricked houses and the empty destroyed buildings. Without any presence of life, it was like a ghost village. At last, the delegation reached its destination, Kolibe. According to the Office of the High Representative (OHR), Gornje Kolibe is a model for multi-ethnic co-existence. Participants, surrounded by a curious crowd, went inside a house, which looked like a village hall, because of the party novelties hung from the ceiling. As part of the introduction, a videotape was shown which documented the recent history of Gornje Kolibe, from 1998 to 2001. This began with Kolibe in 1998. Pictures showed a destroyed village, with empty houses, holes in the roofs, and sometimes only one wall standing among ruins. The village centre resembled a lunar landscape.
In 1999, everything changed. Old buildings were cleaned and new houses were reconstructed. The houses have been furnished with beds, clothes provided and so on. Some bags of cement for rebuilding could be seen. The village residents cleaned the floor, dug the holes. In the last years (2000-2001), an electricity network has been installed, a new yellow-walled school was built, the water system has been repaired and a new spring inaugurated. "This is a new Gornje Kolibe," said the Mayor of the town, with a large smile. Cement was provided by UNHCR and furniture (mainly school chairs and tables) by SFOR. Jan. 18, 2001, representatives from SFOR and UNHCR officially opened the village hall. The videotape ended with the Internet Web site, "www.kolibe.com", underlining the rapid effort of rebuilding in this region.
Outside, children welcomed the Ambassadors with a rose, inviting them to visit their parents' homes. A table had been set out in every garden. The old mother and her two daughters wore their embroidered white scarves on her heads, in order to meet Wolfgang Petritsch, the High representative (HR). On the way, a label from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is stuck every five metres on the electricity posts.
Ambassadors and villagers
The Ambassadors were invited to enter the houses and to have a discussion with the families. As an example, the Ambassador of Austria, Dr. Gerhard Jandl, spoke with the family of Saban Havic. He is a returnee, a man around 45, with drawn features and electric blue-eyes. His parents, his son's family and his wife live with him. His son, 25, a father of two children, is unemployed. The old father explained his situation, while his daughter-in-law served coffee, soft drinks and cream cakes. "I came back with my family five years ago. I visited this village and I got this house three years ago," he said. "How do you see your future?" asked Jandl. "It is very difficult for us. My son is out of work, so we accommodate him and his family. I get 100 DM monthly for working in the factory near the Croatian border. Yes, it is difficult to look to the future." That is why people are glad to meet the Ambassadors and the HR; they can explain their problems.
A difficult area
The common point with the next village is the warmth of the welcome. After a short trip in the helicopters, all the VIP's get into their cars again, and headed in the direction of Janja, Municipality of Bijeljina, accompanied by the soldiers of the Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (PRSAB). The Mayor and the Chief of Police welcomed the guests. After all the speeches by the President, the Deputy President of the Janja multi-ethnic Board, representative of UNHCR and the OHR, "we are surely on the right way," concluded Mr. Ljubojevic, Mayor of Bijeljina. "We have time now to solve the return problem," he added, among the TV cameras, the crowd and the press microphones. Then, the High representative, surrounded by Bosnian journalists, visited the family of Mohamed Godusevic, in Brace Lazica Street, a place known for violent incidents in July 2000. The house of this Bosniac returnee is well-equipped, with fresh water, electricity, furniture and even a television aerial. In front of the stairs, next to the vegetable garden, there is a carpet full of shoes.
According to the delegates, some people haven't got a house. That is the case of an old woman, who lived in Janja and owned an orchard of fruit trees. Now, "I have to go to Tuzla tomorrow, in order to get assistance. The only problem is that we need money," she explained to two Ambassadors of the delegation. She has asked for three different aid packages. "We hope it will be better." That is also the wish of the whole International Community. The Ambassadors were impressed with what they had seen, while returnees felt they had well and truly been listened to first hand about their reintegration problems and concerns.

Related links: Humanitarian Aid, SFOR at Work