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Czech patrol Hambarine

By CPO Tim Adams
First published in
SFOR Informer #90, June 21, 2000

Hambarine - Patrolling the totally destroyed villages around the Hambarine area near Prijedor in MND-SW (Multi-National Division Southwest) has always been a complex entanglement for SFOR Peacekeepers. The absolute destruction of complete communities, including over 2,800 homes, schools, churches, mosques, municipal buildings, electrical, telephone and water systems is overwhelming.

Add to this the lingering hostile sentiment and the mass graves and you have a daunting challenge that goes back to the beginning of peacekeeping operations. But the current problems for patrolling units are a bit different now. The Czech armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from the Czech 43rd Airborne

Mechanised Battalion that carry out routine patrols now have to stop frequently to allow trucks full of building materials to move sufficiently out of the way so they can pass. Often the APCs slow down to return friendly greetings from the returning inhabitants and they come to a complete stop when returnees indicate they have a question or a request. Returnees are moving back into the area and everywhere you look they are rebuilding. Gardens are being planted, trees are getting pruned and grass is being cut. Construction workers and homeowners are progressively reclaiming their houses from the destruction and the vegetation that have ruled here for too many years.

The 43rd, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Ales Opata, replaced the Czech 1st Mechanised battalion on the 24 of April this year. The total number of returnees has risen from 3,110 at that time to over 6,000 now, according to 1st Lt. Jana Ruzickova. "We patrol our Area of Responsibility (AOR) on a regular basis to provide the returnees a safe and secure environment," explained Ruzickova. "When the patrol is going through an area they often stop and ask people what they need as they are rebuilding their homes." The returnees have requested everything from building supplies to road repairs.

The Czechs help the local people get in contact with humanitarian organisations for construction materials but handle most of the other requests themselves. They have cleared the ruins of a school, constructed parking areas, improved roads, cleared ruined bridges, recovered and destroyed various Explosive Ordnance (EOD,) inspected and reconnoitered future heliports and engineer projects, monitored demining and helped deliver two ambulances to local communities. In one case an elderly couple asked the Czech soldiers for help getting a cat and a dog, which was easy to do, according to Ruzickova.

One reason so many people are returning to the Czech AOR right now is that elements of the infrastructure have been repaired in some of the communities by a combination of SFOR troops and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) over the last couple of years. Electrical power has finally been restored to some areas and the Czech are taking care of another critical need: water. "In this weather the number of request for water supplies has increased and the people are very satisfied with our help because water is very important for them," said Capt. Miroslav Klima. The Czech unit also maintains two CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) houses in Sanski Most and Novi Grad.

"The CIMIC tasks are to inform local people about solving their problems concerning assistance programs," said Klima. The CIMIC houses help locals make contact with the proper organisation that is best suited to help them. They also help prospective business owners complete the necessary forms and applications for loans.

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