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The Foreign Legion repairs
the Celebici Bridge

By Cpl. Nicolas Marut
First published in
SFOR Informer #91, July 5, 2000

Celebici - An Engineer Platoon of the 2nd REG (Foreign Legion Engineers) has been working since June 19 to repair the north footbridge of the Celebici Bridge, 50 km south of Sarajevo.
This huge railroad bridge of 315 meters that spans the Neretva River was constructed in 1948. It has wooden pedestrian walkways on both sides. After more than 50 years and no recent maintenance, the north side footbridge fell into ruin.

"In certain places, there were two meters large holes," indicated 1Lt. Guillaume de Sercey, commanding this legionnaires platoon. The south side footbridge, which also needs repairing, still remains practicable because it lies on a metallic structure.

After the deadly fall of a little girl last winter, renovation of the bridge became an emergency.

More than 2,000 people, mostly schoolchildren, use it daily. The township of Celebici called on the MND-SW which agreed to offer the help of the foreign legion engineers and also financed the purchase of materials.

The 10-day long job, required the replacement of 3,200 beams on the north footbridge, equal to 40 cubic metres of wood.

"Its a matter of pulling out an old board and putting the new one straight back in," explained Sercey.

The main difficulty is the large number of pins, today completely rusty, that workers had nailed to boards half a century ago.

"We have a lot of difficulty in withdrawing them," he emphasised. "We already broke three wrenches. Now, we directly saw the boards with a hack saw metal saw while we wait to receive a grindstone machine."

Sappers work all day long on the bridge, slowed down in their rhythm by the five daily trains that go through it.

The priority, on a site such as this one, is the security. All men, as soon as they pass the footbridge, are equipped with harness and snap hooks. On the lake, two legionnaires remain permanently on a rowboat, ready to intervene in case of a fall.

"For security reasons I don't want too soldiers on the bridge at the same moment," insisted the platoon leader.

The platoon is therefore divided into two groups of seven legionnaires that each take charge of a part of the bridge. The four remaining sappers work at renovating the old classrooms of the Celebici School in which they are billeted during the works.

"It was their idea," explained Sercey. "When we arrived, we were deeply touched when we saw the dilapidated state of the rooms."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France
Engineering - bridge stories
Humanitarian Aid