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Bosnia Mission: Moving from War to Peace

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TUZLA, BOSNIA, April 4, 1996 – For those who deployed to Bosnia nearly four months ago, signs of peace are evident in the flow of traffic and the whistle of a freight train.

"The difference in the amount of traffic now from when we got here is unbelievable," said U.S. Army Maj. Sam Murphy, a plans officer with 1st Armored Division at the NATO implementation force headquarters in Tuzla.

When Murphy arrived in Bosnia, the landscape was dotted with hundreds of checkpoints, which he said put a stranglehold on the country. "Nobody could go anywhere," Murphy said. "The potential for civilian commercial traffic to flow was just about zero."

Initially, Murphy said, some checkpoints were fortified positions, but most consisted simply of a shack with a barrel for a wood fire. Freedom of movement became a big issue for the NATO forces, and they worked to see the checkpoints taken down.

Today, any impediment to free movement is considered a "no go." Murphy said. "Freedom of movement is under our charter, and we ensure that it happens." Occasionally, however, checkpoints still spring up. "Now what we're seeing is that the police will stop their vehicle and set up a mobile checkpoint," Murphy said.

Brigade soldiers recently found an illegal checkpoint put up by civilian police. "The brigade asked them to disassemble the checkpoint and stayed there until they it was done," Murphy said.

During a recent trip to the region, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said the Implementation Force will have zero tolerance for illegally erected checkpoints. Freedom of movement is vital to civilian reconstruction efforts, he said.

Recently, a farewell ceremony highlighted another sign of progress, according to Murphy. "We were at a change of command at the Swedish battalion. The outgoing commander was giving a speech when a train came by.

"My immediate reaction was, 'How bad! This guy's giving a speech and this train is making all this noise.' Then I realized, that train is a good sign. It's a sign of health. The trains are actually running again. Just by virtue of freedom of movement we are seeing changes within the society that we had something to do with."

So far, NATO's implementation forces have successfully established zones of separation between the former warring factions. They've monitored the transfer of lands between the parties. The next requirement set in the Dayton Agreement calls for the factions to withdraw their troops, equipment, weapons and ammunition into cantonment areas and storage sites by April 18.

"We're trying to get the former warring factions from a tactical disposition -- people in trenches and fighting positions -- to what you would see in a country at peace -- people in barracks, and equipment and weapons in motor pools and ammunition storage sites," Murphy said.

Withdrawing the tools of war is important to prevent minor disputes from escalating, he said, reasoning that cooler heads may prevail when factions disagree but can't use a military response. "When you have forces deployed and a lot of ammunition on the front lines, it's much easier to transition from a minor crisis into a militarily significant event," Murphy said.

For the last few years in Bosnia, the arrival of spring has meant the rebirth of violence as the former warring parties geared up for offensives, said Army Maj. John Suttle, a 1st Armored Division spokesman.

This year is different, Suttle said. The forces have gone back to cantonments. Their troops are moving into the barracks. They've taken their weapons and put them into storage sites and opened them up for inspections. A joint task force of 11 nations inspects the weapons.

"If you go out and look where the confrontation line used to be, you won't see forces looking across the barbed wire at each other," Suttle said. "This is something new. It wasn't like this at this time last year or the year before or the year before that. There is fundamental change. Peace has been brought to the Balkans."

Ninety days after the implementation force deployed, the former warring factions were required to tell the Implementation Force where they were going to position their forces by the April 18 deadline. If they don't have space for troops in barracks and cantonment areas, Murphy said, they have to be demobilized.

"We've analyzed their plans, where they're currently located, where they're moving. As they move to these sites, we go and inspect. If they have 20 tanks where they said there would be only 15, we note that, and we let them know we aren't real pleased that they didn't report it that way. We try to help them by pointing out deficiencies and sort of prod them along. If we find somebody at a nondeclared site, we find out where they're supposed to be and escort them to that location."

Failure to comply with the plan is not always intentional, according to Murphy. While U.S. forces have communications gear allowing them to communicate anywhere anytime, this is not the case for the former warring factions.

"When we were establishing the zones of separation, lot of times faction forces didn't realize they were in a place they weren't supposed to be," he said. "As soon as you pointed it out to them and left somebody on site, they'd move out."

Implementation forces have to assess situations to determine if they're dealing with willing noncompliance or a case where circumstances such as mechanical failures are holding up progress.

"For example, you find an artillery piece where it's not supposed to be," Murphy said. "Our guys are going to stay there until it moves. As it turns out, it's on a hilltop. There's three feet of snow, and it's out of gas. The commander is trying his best to get it off the hill, just like our commander would do."

Implementation forces toe the line enforcing the peace agreement, Murphy said. They try to be even-handed, treating all sides the same. Implementation Force commanders hold joint military commission meetings with local faction commanders to work out problems.

"We're pretty hard-nosed with them, but they know we're hard-nosed on everybody," he said. "They know that we're not just coming in and assessing black or white. We're using military judgment, and we're trying to work with them. As long as they show that willingness, they shouldn't have any problems."

Murphy said the biggest challenge right now is staying on track, maintaining the momentum the NATO force has achieved. "Our big push is to keep them moving from these tactical dispositions to dispositions that resemble a peacetime army. They're well on their way now, but the burden is on them to do what they said they're going to do."

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