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Italian CIMIC team helps Gorazde Community

By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#120, August 22, 2001

The Engineer Platoon (Genio Militare) of the Italian Battle Group are de-mining, clearing rubble and improving the infrastructure for 128 houses in a district of Gorazde, making it possible for the return of Bosnian-Serb and Bosniac families. The Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) team (S-5) directs the operation, for which the return of Displaced Persons and Refugees (DPRE) to their previous homes is one of their main challenges.

Gorazde/Srpsko Gorazde - An Italian engineer platoon is working hard among the rubble and remains of Povrsnica, a Gorazde suburb (Federation, Canton 5, 50 kilometres east of Sarajevo), located on a slope of the Drina River valley. They are from the 4th Regiment of Engineers based in Palermo (Italy). Their aim is to make it easier for the return of 113 Bosnian-Serb and 15 Bosniac families, from Visegrad and Rogatica to their previous dwellings.
Before they got started, an Explosive and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, also from the Italian engineers, went to the zone looking for mines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO). Once the area had been checked and cleaned it was the turn of the engineering unit, which had just completed a job in Zapljevac (a little village in Republika Srpska, RS).
A difficult terrain
The platoon is comprised of 12 soldiers that operate two bulldozers and three dump trucks; for all of them this is a rewarding experience.
“We have been working here for 20 days and in three days we will be finished, this is different from the military context. Local people highly appreciate what we are doing and these people are very poor. They lack so many elementary things and soldiers understand better the reality of this country,” explained 1st. Lt. Luigi Cucinotta, platoon commander.
The district is in difficult terrain with no easy access and is covered by thickets. That is why the Italians perform not only the clearing of rubble, but also level the terrain to provide access to the compound. In this way the bricklayers and the building materials can reach the site.
“There are a lot of houses, and people come to us asking for a lot of things. We cannot do everything they want,” said WO2 Francesco Morreale, deputy commander.
They are not beginners here; sometimes in Italy, they have to work and assist in natural catastrophes, such as floods, earthquakes or even volcano threats. The job doesn’t technically challenge them. They work accurately, with a high degree of professionalism.
WO1 Vincenzo Valentino is the chief operator and works closely with the locals. “People become impatient, I convince them that the job will be done (we are here for that). In this area there are houses belonging to Bosniacs and Bosnian-Serbs. We try to be balanced and work in the houses of one group at a time and then move onto another group,” said Valentino.
Bulldozer operator Cpl. Fabio Ferrante volunteered for his tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): “In Italy you normally train, here not. It is rewarding when we work for people and you see the benefits.”
What really has touched the hearts of these soldiers is the children.
“They are very poor and they are happy to meet us, we are going to try to keep in touch with an Italian association that helps needy children,” commented Valentino.
For this task the unit has been moved to the Italian garrison of Rogatica, where a company-size unit is based in order to fulfil the mission in the eastern part of its Area of Responsibility (AoR). They leave the engineering machinery in a Federation Army barracks near the site overnight, and go to Rogatica after finishing their daily work, returning the following morning.
Some returnees are living on the site, in their recent rebuilt houses, while others are waiting with impatience for the SFOR soldiers to finish. International Organisations and the BiH government continue with the task until the houses are totally rebuilt.
Nedo Mitrovic, the representative of the B-Serbs DPREs said, “We really appreciate the job performed by the Italian soldiers. It is another reason to return here. They have been working hard and they fulfil their promises. Now it is time for other organisations.”
In this environment, the role played by SFOR translators such as Vera Simsic is paramount, being the link between the soldiers and DPREs or local authorities.
This operation has the capacity to carry out and support civil projects in the huge task of rebuilding normal life in BiH. The Engineering Platoon has just finished this task and, without stopping, they have started on another one with the same goal: to speed up the stabilisation process.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Italy,