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Police, Checkpoints Pose Problems in Bosnia

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 12, 1996 – Military operations are progressing well in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the commander of NATO's implementation force said, but he has concerns about how the country will proceed toward peace.

In a recent Pentagon briefing, Navy Adm. Leighton Smith said there are still problems effecting elections and a return to peaceful, democratic rule. Unacceptable law enforcement practices and illegal checkpoints pose problems in rebuilding the Bosnian nation.

Police are the biggest problem. "The international police task force is roughly 38 percent manned -- 105 or 106 days into this mission," said Smith. "I personally believe that even if they get everybody, they're not going to have enough and they're not getting them fast enough."

Smith said the police forces in Bosnia are in trouble because of their lack of professionalism and their bad attitude. "Every country that's gone through what this country is going through has suffered an enormous criminal problem -- and we see the development of that now," said Smith. "If they don't get their act together, [there] is going to be a serious problem for the resettlement of the refugees."

Local police are also setting up illegal checkpoints on hundreds of Bosnian roads. Defense Secretary William Perry recently said the Implementation Force will no longer tolerate illegal checkpoints in Bosnia, and Smith echoed those remarks.

"We will not tolerate police checkpoints that are there solely for the purpose of restricting the movement of the population," said Smith. "If they are only stopping cars with license plates that are either Croatian or Muslim or Serb, they will be taken down."

Under the Dayton agreement, freedom of movement is vital to successfully rebuilding Bosnia. Smith said the international police task force -- not the local authorities -- will supervise authorized checkpoints. If those points restrict movement, Smith said the NATO forces will close them.

Smith said the lack of both political direction and professionalism by police forces is a point he's making to each of the regional political leaders.

In some cases, Smith said, police forces ignore orders from their own leaders. Serb police have ignored Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's orders to dismantle checkponts. Smith said Bosnian Federation President Kresimir Zubak had to write two or three letters to one customs checkpoint before it closed. "The president of my country -- he just has to think something and I'm going to react," said Smith. "Three [presidential] letters for one checkpoint? No."

Smith said knocking down those points brings some difficulty, but added the checkpoint personnel don't argue with the armed implementation forces. "Once they see that we're determined, they understand that they are going to lose if they try to take us on," said Smith. "We may go up to a place and be refused entry, but one hour later that guy's going to see a force he's never seen before. We've never been told 'no' more than about once or twice in a particular place."

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