COMSFOR New Year's Address

10 January 2004

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to Camp Butmir and this New Year Reception. I am pleased that you can spend some time with us and celebrate the accomplishments of 2003 and look forward to a bright and prosperous 2004.
The year 2003 has departed and we find ourselves moving quickly into 2004. I believe it appropriate to look back at the past year and to look forward to what 2004 may bring us.
The year 2003 brought many changes in the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The adoption of the Defence Reform Committee report led to the adoption of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Defence Law in November. The Military Doctrine of the Armed Forces of BiH was accepted at the state level. Documents on training are waiting to be accepted by the Standing Committee for Military Matters or the new Minister of Defence.
The restructuring and downsizing of the VF and VRS to meet NATO compatibility has begun. The new defence reform will provide this country with a new defence structure based on parliamentary oversight, state-level command and control and creating a defence ministry. Never the less the implementation of the Defence Reform can only be set into practice when the structures are agreed upon and put in place.
Last year saw a concerted de-mining effort by the Entity Armed Forces de-mining teams, supported by SFOR staff.
The Entity Armed Forces de-mining activities contributed 22 percent of the national de-mining effort during the 2003 campaign, leading to an improvement in the freedom of movement for the people of BiH. I am pleased to say that there were no SFOR casualties during 2003, and due to a coordinated Mine Risk Education campaign by both SFOR and BHMAC, civilian casualties were reduced from 43 in 2002 to 27 killed in 2003. But every victim is one too many and so the goal of us all should be to have NO CASUALTIES in 2004.
The BiH Defence Law now allows the formation of a centralised organisation for the de-mining effort in BiH. Once operational this should allow BiH to offer a potential niche capability to NATO.
Combining the efficiencies arising from the reorganization and new demining techniques, it is assessed that the timescale to make BiH free from the effects of mines could be reduced from 70 years to nearer 20 years.
Also the Entities Armed Forces and the Local Police continues to work closely with SFOR.
We all continue to work to remove weapons and explosives from society. Harvest Operations continue to be successful. Every weapon; every hand grenade removed, reduces the chance of an accident.
Last year over 11,000 handguns and rifles and 45,000 hand grenades were taken in but there remain far too many dangerous weapons available.
We applaud the efforts that the RS has made to take local control of Harvest operations.
It is a good effort but not enough has been done.
In addition, we look forward to the Federation's public commitment to conduct these same operations. The Spring Harvest should see unprecedented cooperation by all parties.
After the tragic accident at Derventa last June; SFOR agreed to assist the RS in their efforts to destroy the dangerous ammunition they were holding. I must emphasize, the responsibility for destruction of unsafe, unstable and unserviceable ammunition lies with the EAF but SFOR stands ready to assist.
Approximately 1,700 metric tons of ammunition and explosives must be destroyed. This situation is not unique to RS as the Federation also has large quantities of dangerous ammunition that needs to be destroyed. SFOR will work with them also, but again, the EAF are responsible and should assume the lead.
2003 was a good year but 2004 brings great promise.
The first three months are critical to the success of the year. Work done during this period will help to form the Partnership for Peace process and the decision to be made in Istanbul in June. The Joint Military Commission meeting on January 30 must have tangible results.
The Joint Military Commission will need to confirm and adopt the final structure of the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once adopted, these changes must be implemented. The militaries of the Entities will be reduced to 12,000 professional soldiers and 60,000 reserves. I recognize the leadership challenges posed by the requirement to provide support for those soldiers made redundant but it is nothing the people and the government cannot handle.
Accession to the Partnership for Peace Program requires that BiH fully cooperate with the ICTY.
This means a top priority for 2004 must remain the capture of PIFWCs. While SFOR will detain these fugitives as part of our mandate, as signatories to the Dayton Peace Accords, the governmental bodies of BiH are primarily responsible for their apprehension.
These people are leeches, bleeding the economy of your nation and stifling progress. They are denying Bosnia its future prosperity.
They will be caught; they will be brought to justice; and this country will be the better for it.
Changes are coming to SFOR. Because of the progress made towards a secure and safe environment both by SFOR but more importantly the citizens of BiH, SFOR will reduce in size to 7,000 personnel by mid-year. With the restructuring will come new operating procedures but we will retain our ability to conduct verification inspections and surge forces to support operations.
Let us not forget, although SFOR remains committed, the people and institutions of BiH must reduce their dependency on SFOR. Make no mistake; SFOR will continue to make an impact and NATO remains committed.
The level of commitment can be seen in the upcoming visit of the new Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer next week and the NATO reinforcement rehearsals that will take place in May and September.
Let me also take this time to thank all the nations that have and continue to contribute to the SFOR mission. It is through your professionalism and courage that we can partner with the people and institutions of BiH to achieve integration into Euro-Atlantic Alliances.
There is no doubt, 2004 will bring its share of challenges. We sincerely hope that BiH can achieve the standards of Partnership for Peace membership this year and we will do what we can to assist you in achieving this most worthy goal. But the emphasis is on assist as it is up to you to determine your future and your destiny in the world.

Related links:

Radio Free Europe COMSFOR Interview

COMSFOR Holiday Message