Cohen: Military Succeeds in Bosnia, Civil Side Must Focus
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
CAMP DOBOL, Bosnia, Mar. 10, 1997 As a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carries William S. Cohen above northern Bosnia, clouds of pale gray smoke slowly waft skyward. Farmers below burn their fields, clearing old growth and detonating land mines with the fires of spring.
Just before the defense secretary's chopper touches down March 6, the fires set off a mine about a quarter mile from where U.S. troops await his arrival. The Army formation doesn't waver. Such blasts are common as farmers prepare their fields for crops during Bosnia's second spring without renewed fighting.
Fourteen months after NATO troops rolled into the war-ravaged country, peace is holding. The 60,000-strong peace implementation force known as IFOR had successfully separated the warring factions. When IFOR's mission ended Dec. 20, a smaller stabilization force remained. About 31,000 troops from 30 nations, including about 8,000 Americans, now provide security so civilian authorities can rebuild the nation.
Cohen first visited Tuzla in February 1996 as a U.S. senator and found it quite different then. "You can walk the streets in many parts of that region today, where you were afraid of being hit by a sniper or a bomb just a year ago," he said.
During stops at two northern base camps, Cohen praised U.S. and allied troops for their efforts. "You have helped bring a measure of peace to an area wracked by war," he said. "Bodies are not falling today; people are not dying today, because of your presence, because of your commitment."
Allied troops have overcome daunting challenges, Cohen said at a press conference here. They've successfully met every military challenge they've confronted, he added.
"They stopped the killing and turned despair into hope. They created a secure environment that is allowing economic and political reforms to take hold," Cohen said. "They are well trained. They have a very clear and well-defined mission and the rules of engagement and the equipment to carry it out. They are getting very strong support from their families and friends at home."
NATO operations in Bosnia will end in June 1998, according to Cohen. NATO forces went in together, and they will leave together, he said, adding much work needs to be done in the meantime. Cohen said civilian authorities and allied forces must concentrate their attention, energies and resources on reconstruction.
In the months ahead, Cohen said, the Bosnians must work together to strengthen the foundations of peace by rebuilding the economy and political structure, developing competent local police forces to preserve law and order and resettling refugees. These efforts must accelerate, he said.
The day of Cohen's visit, another setback occurred. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced the third postponement of Bosnia's municipal elections. Originally scheduled for last September, they were first moved to November, then to July and now are slated for mid-September.
Postponing the elections was very disappointing, Cohen said. There has been a lack of commitment on the part of civilian authorities to carry out their obligations, he said. The delay is due to a lack of resources rather than security concerns, he said.
Resettling refugees is another necessary aspect of Bosnia's rebirth. About a million refugees are outside Bosnia and another million are within its borders, U.S. military officials said. Ethnic tensions resurface when refugees attempt to resettle.
Incidents occurred in recent months in northeast Bosnia, where prefabricated housing being readied for refugee families mysteriously exploded in the night, a U.S. Army official said. Nine houses were blown up about two weeks ago in Seferovic. In early March, a crowd of about 100 Serb civilians torched a hamlet northeast of Tuzla rather than allow refugees to move in.
By the time NATO forces leave in June 1998, Cohen said, they will have given Bosnia's people three years of stability. If lasting peace is to be achieved, he said, it will be up to the Bosnian people.
"A military force can impose order," he said, "but it cannot impose peace." Once NATO pulls out, Cohen said, Bosnia's people will have to decide "if the benefits of peace outweigh the agonies of war."