SFOR, last hope for rebuilding village

Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#136, April 11, 2002

The small village of Zulja was completely destroyed during the war, and is now trying to rise from the ashes. This rural community of Muslim returnees which lies within an area of a Muslim majority, has not received international aid, except from SFOR. In March, a Spanish platoon of divisional engineers from Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) built a road from Zulja to Blagaj. While the road was being built, an engineer platoon from the French Battle Group demolished and cleared ruined buildings.

Before the war, Zulja was part of the Nevesinje Municipality, since the end of the war, in accordance with the General Framework Agreement for Peace it has become part of Mostar Jugoistok (Southeast) Municipality. This should have been favourable for the rural Muslim community, but in reality it has been a disadvantage for Zulja. The main objective of international aid is the resettlement of returnee minorities within majorities, but Zulja is a small Muslim village within a Muslim municipality, that is already being rebuilt.
"We are in a very difficult situation, only seven houses have been rebuilt which is only 15 percent of the 55 houses that were destroyed. Due to the administrative situation, we can not receive international aid. Only SFOR, through MND-SE, are helping us," said Mustafa Cadic, the man in charge of the Zulja resettlement.
"One of the main problems of the resettlement is that the children could not go to school. But thanks to the new road it will now be possible to have a school bus connecting Blagaj, Zulja and Vranjevici. This will allow our children to go to school and at the same time it will be good for the economy. The new road will be our path to development."
Road to the future
Sgt. Sergio Valdepeñas Martin Buitrago, chief of works, explained: "We started the road from scratch, and had to rethink the originally requested route because it passed through a hard, rocky and long path that needed to be avoided. We opened the way with a bulldozer, and also needed the heavy breaker (pneumatic drill) in order to crack the rock. The rock was so hard; the bulldozer broke down twice, and the heavy breaker, once. We advanced no more than 100 metres on the first day, then the next day just 20 metres. We found a quarry near Blagaj where we could get the material to build the road. Although the material was not of a very good quality, we had to make do with it. The poor quality of the material made the last phase of spreading and flattening the surface, harder work than usual. But in the end Zulja had its new road and we had the reward of a job well done."
Demolition and clearing the way to rebuild
Lt. David Gomez, leader of the French engineer platoon, explained: "We were tasked by the French Battle Group CIMIC. Our mission was to demolish seven destroyed houses and remove all of the debris. The state of the houses was really bad, and the work took longer than the three weeks we had originally planned, due to the huge amount of debris that had to be cleared, to make way for the building of new houses. The task was not too difficult for us because we have an extremely powerful and versatile machine, the MPG, a specialised heavy construction machine."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Spain, France

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Photo: French Engineer Platoon

The Zulja mosque after the war.

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Photo: French Engineer Platoon

The MPG is very effective.

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Photo: Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente

The Spanish grader spreads the last layer of small gravel while the road roller crushes it.

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Photo: French Engineer Platoon

French engineer remove debris by hand.