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Walking the line

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 secure environment.
"It's an important job," said Warrant Officer Petr Galajda, platoon leader for A Company, 5th Mechanised Battalion.
Galajda 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 and Bosniacs.
"This is an area where a lot of Muslims have returned," Galajda said.
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.
On 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," he said.
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 situation."
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.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Czech Republic
SFOR at Work