By Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001
An old man on a bicycle waves at the soldiers
as they make their way through the village of Cela. They wave
back and continue their way on foot. This area of Multinational
Division Southwest (MND-SW) is familiar territory for the soldiers
of the Czech Battle Group (CBG). They conduct continuous patrols
here, walking the thin line that divides communities polarised
by the war.
Donja Ljubija - At the entranceway of a destroyed
home a rusted gate swings crookedly on one hinge. The fence that
once surrounded this dwelling has long since vanished, and the
gate now stands alone among the weeds and the rubble. It is an
entrance to nowhere, protection against nothing.
Many of the ruined homes in this largely rural area have been
overtaken by nature. Even in the quiet farm communities the scenes
of destruction are repeated over and over. Despite the damage,
people are slowly returning and trying to rebuild their lives
in this area. With the memory of war still very fresh, it is not
always so easy. This is where the Czech soldiers patrol, and where
they feel they are making a difference in maintaining a safe and
"It's an important job," said Warrant Officer Petr Galajda,
platoon leader for A Company, 5th Mechanised Battalion.
said his platoon has conducted more than 230 patrols in the area
surrounding Donja Ljubija, where the Czechs are stationed. The
area includes Cela, a small village about 20 kilometres from the
Czech camp. The village is sharply divided between Bosnian-Serbs
"This is an area where a lot of Muslims have returned,"
For the community to continue to rebuild and grow, the presence
of the soldiers is necessary. They conduct foot and vehicle patrols,
often combining the two to cover more area. Patrolling the area
means sometimes walking a very thin line.
"On one side of the street you have Bosnian-Serbs and on
the other side Bosniacs," Galajda said.
one patrol the soldiers come across an Orthodox Church construction
site. There they stop for a moment to set up security and communications.
During the war, religious institutions became symbolic in each
side's cause and were often targeted for destruction. The lingering
presence of the patrol here adds to the feeling of security among
the locals as they try to rebuild their community.
On their patrols the soldiers often have interaction with the
locals. Warrant Officer Tomas Danecek said he goes on two to three
patrols a day, depending on the situation. He's been able to meet
some people on the patrols.
"People are happy we're here," he said.
Warrant Officer Vaclav Sachl said different people find different
things of interest on patrol.
"For some it's the countryside, for others it's the people,"
While no serious problems have occurred in Cela, there have been
incidents of provocation. Efforts to integrate the local school
have also met resistance.
"It's mostly calm," Galajda said. "We monitor the
For the time being, the Czechs continue monitoring the situation
in the Donja Ljubija area. However, all the Czech soldiers will
eventually leave Bosnia and Herzegovina. The battle group recently
announced plans to pull out of the country by the end of the year.
While MND-SW forces will re-organise to provide security for the
area, the hope is one day there won't be a need for patrolling.
"That will depend on the locals," Galajda said.
As the patrol moves out a local boy waves at the soldiers. For
now, the Czech soldiers are still a presence in the community
and they wave back.
Nations of SFOR: Czech
SFOR at Work