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Alone in Jabuka tower


By 2Lt Renaud de Quillacq
First published in
SFOR Informer #71, 29 Sept, 1999.

Zortaci - In Bosnia and Hercegovina it is not unusual to find signallers of the SFOR nations perched at the top of mountains, cut off from the rest of the world. After the Canadians and British "cavemen" we spoke about in issue 69, here are the Portuguese, French and Italians of Jabuca.

Jabuka is the name given by the Portuguese to this 1,279 metre-high mountain overlooking Gorazde in Multinational Division South East. The French call it Zortaci and for Italians it is just "the tower". Before the war a huge Yugoslavian army radar tower stood here, it was destroyed in 1994.

Later the French came to set up a electro-magnetic wave relay. Since 1998, three nationalities share the building whose architecture is exactly the same as the Bjelasnica Olympic site, now given back to the local authorities.

Seventeen people live up here, seven signallers, (five French and two Italians) as well as ten Portuguese paratroopers from the 23rd Coy, 2nd Airborne Infantry Battalion, based in Vitkovici. The French Signallers are responsible for the Rita nodal centre number 14, they arrived on August 4 for a four months tour. The two Italians are in charge of the Sotrine network relay, they are based in Zetra and have rotations every three weeks. The Portuguese Section provides support and security, it changes every week. The 17 men have their meals all together, they receive fresh supplies every two days from Vitkovici.

The first mission for this relay station is to connect the Portuguese Battalion to Sarajevo and to relay radio signals between all the users of the zone. French Sgt.Maj. Louis Banchieri is the site commander. He is a regular visitor of the theatre's summits, last year, nearly at the same period, he was working in Bjelasnica signal base, in the Igman mountains, at 2200 metres height. The challenge of a lonely life is of course to stay busy. In mountains, you do not have a lot of forms of entertainment, almost when the massif is deserted. In Jabuka, there are no flocks or hikers. The only visitors to come up are SFOR soldiers.

According to Sgt.Maj. Acacio Pacheco, the Portuguese Section leader responsible for the security, this loneliness is a good thing. "We are very well here, we can rest and have the time to read and listen to music," he says. For those who are staying longer, the time may be sometimes be a little long but they seem to take to this mountain life very well.

Engineers have built a volley-ball court, a small body-building room and a bowls court have also been set up. What the 17 men wait with some trepidation is the approach of the winter, it could change everyday life.

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