|KEEPING THE PEACE|
May 18 , 2000
Tom Bearden follows a group of soldiers on a tour of duty in Bosnia.
| MARGARET WARNER: Tom Bearden's report from Bosnia begins
in Tuzla, a small city in the northern part of what is still a deeply
TOM BEARDEN: A tranquil, warm spring afternoon in downtown Tuzla: Not the kind of scene many Americans would associate with the name "Bosnia." Most would remember scenes like this one five years ago, the cobblestones red with the blood of 71 people killed by a Serb artillery shell lobbed from the surrounding hills. It was the worst single shelling incident of the entire war between the Bosnian Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. Buildings still bear the scars of shrapnel. There's a flower-bedecked memorial for the dead. But today, people feel safe enough to window shop, or laze away the afternoon at an outdoor cafe. (Speaking Bosnian) They say they feel that way because US troops are here.
MAN ON STREET: I'm glad they are here, and my opinion about it is very positive, definitely.
TOM BEARDEN: Why is it positive?
MAN ON STREET: Because they bring some good spirits here, definitely, because we survived four or five years of some terrible things, and right now it's much, much better. Actually, 110% better than it used to be.
TOM BEARDEN: Is it their presence that keeps the peace?
MAN ON STREET: Yeah, definitely.
|SFOR and its mission|
TOM BEARDEN: The city of Tuzla is in the heart of a military sector commanded by Americans. Britain and France control the other two. Together, they make up SFOR, the security force: 20,000 troops from 25 different nations. The sectors overlay a more basic division of the country, a federation composed of Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Croats, and Republika Srpska, the Serbian republic. That division was created by the Dayton peace accords that ended the war in 1995. How do Americans and other armed forces keep the peace in a place where ethnic and religious tensions have led to centuries of bloodshed? Mostly just by being seen. Captain Michael Senn commanded this patrol in the area around Brcko, in the northern part of the US sector. His unit is part of the 3rd ACR, or Armored Cavalry Regiment, normally based at Fort Carson, Colorado.
CAPT. MICHAEL SENN, US Army: Our basic mission here is to enforce the military provisions of the general framework and agreement for peace -- which is also called the Dayton Accords -- and to maintain a safe and secure environment here. And what that essentially means, what it breaks down to, is that our presence here allows the international community to carry on their functions and keeps everyone happy and going about their business on a daily basis.
TOM BEARDEN: Patrolling in Brcko is a delicate matter. The city is strategically important to all sides, because it sits astride a five-mile strip of land that joins the two sections of the Serb republic. Brcko's status was so controversial that it was left in limbo by the Dayton Accords until March, when a plan was implemented that makes the city independent of both the Bosnian Federation and the Serbian Republic. The area was ethnically mixed before it was captured by the Serbs. Croats and Muslims were either driven off or killed. Some refugees have since returned, but the area is still primarily Serbian. Evidence of the war is obvious. The troopers drive past block after block of devastated neighborhoods and villages. In the areas being rebuilt, soldiers get out and walk the streets, talk to people, ask shopkeepers to display posters warning of landmines left over from the war.
SOLDIER: Is business starting to pick up a little bit? (Speaking Serbian)
SOLDIER: Well, hopefully, business will pick up even more.
TOM BEARDEN: On this day, Captain Senn came across two Bosnian policemen, also on foot patrol.
CAPT. MICHAEL SENN: So how are things going in the neighborhood here?
BOSNIAN POLICEMAN: No problems.
CAPT. MICHAEL SENN: Do you all usually patrol down here? (Speaking Serbian)
BOSNIAN POLICEMAN: Regular patrol.
CAPT. MICHAEL SENN: Regular patrol? Good. Well, from what we see, you all are doing a very good job. Well, we appreciate your cooperation. Thanks.
|Local law enforcement|
TOM BEARDEN: Senn wants to reinforce the authority of the local police, because his mission doesn't include law enforcement.
CAPT. MICHAEL SENN: We're not a police force. We try not to get involved in the... the local dealings. When something happens around here, such as a demonstration, or someone's blocking the road because they want to talk to the government, we don't get involved with that. We ensure that the police, the local police and the local officials are doing their job, and we allow them to do their job by being here.
TOM BEARDEN: The reception the Americans get varies dramatically. Bosnian Muslims and Croats are mostly friendly.
SOLDIER: Thank you very much.
MAN: Thank you.
SOLDIER: Good luck with the club. Hopefully everything will go all right.
TOM BEARDEN: It's a different story in downtown Brcko, which is dominated by Serbs.
SOLDIER: Would you be able to put posters up? (Speaking Serbian)
SOLDIER: It's just about vehicle safety, for children. (Speaking Serbian)
SPOKESMAN: No, she doesn't want to have anything with you.
SOLDIER: Doesn't want to have anything? Okay. That's all right. Thank you.
TOM BEARDEN: Although the majority of Serbs we talked to said they welcomed peace, many decried the presence of US troops.
MAN ON STREET: (speaking through interpreter) Aren't you ashamed that people are walking with the guns, and filming people? Aren't you ashamed of that? (Speaking Serbian) We are not war criminals. We are not criminals.
TOM BEARDEN: Would he like to see the Americans leave?
PERSON ON STREET: Yes, they would.
|US troops and life in Bosnia|
TOM BEARDEN: But the majority of US troops rarely interact with Bosnians. They live in heavily fortified compounds -- "behind the wire," as they put it -- providing support for maneuver units like the 3rd ACR. Many of those support troops are members of the National Guard and reserve. Sergeant Janet Christy is with the 1042nd medical company, an Oregon National Guard unit.
SGT. JANET CHRISTY, Oregon National Guard: I am unit supply clerk, and I take care of the property that we brought here, and the property we fell onto when we got here, and make sure that it's all accounted for.
TOM BEARDEN: She'll spend most of her nine-month tour behind a desk at Eagle Base, formerly a Yugoslav airbase, near Tuzla. It's the headquarters of the US sector. What's it like to live here? Christy shares a room with five other women in a temporary plywood building. That's pretty typical for everyone stationed here. You have a nice home, what, 8,000 miles from here and here you are, in this...
SGT. JANET CHRISTY: In this. (Laughs)
TOM BEARDEN: In this, exactly.
SGT. JANET CHRISTY: Well, it could be worse -- it could be a tent. You know, it could be a tent. It could be way worse. The people prior to us had their tent time, and all that, so we got lucky.
TOM BEARDEN: The biggest challenge for Sergeant Christy is dealing with the separation from her husband and two children back in Portland. The Army helps soldiers keep in touch by providing free twice-weekly phone calls and Internet access for e-mail. A civilian contractor provides abundant food services, including fast food and an ice cream shop, and soldiers get to watch American TV.
SINGING: Louie, Louie whoa, darlin' I said we got to go...
TOM BEARDEN: Soldiers get live entertainment, movies, and have access to extensive facilities for exercise. There's even a bar of sorts, called Triggers, but it's an alcohol-free bar. Despite all the amenities, though, there is an ever-present reminder of potential danger. Everyone is required to carry either an M-16 rifle or an automatic pistol at all times, despite the fact that Army Intelligence rates the risk to US soldiers as low.
SPOKESMAN: ...Just are not cooperating.
SPOKESMAN: And it's a local problem.
SPOKESMAN: And it isn't just a security question.
|Pursuit of war criminals|
TOM BEARDEN: Critics say US Commanders are being far too cautious. Dr. James Lyon is director of the Bosnia office of the international crisis group, a think tank specializing in the Balkans. He says the army has kept the peace, but hasn't seriously tried to implement other Dayton Accord provisions.
DR. JAMES LYON, International Crisis Group: Actually it has turned out that their primary mission has been not implementing Dayton, but rather force protection -- that is, making sure that no US soldiers die in the line of duty.
TOM BEARDEN: Lyon says unlike the adjacent British sector, Americans have not pursued war criminals.
DR. JAMES LYON: The British Army has arrested approximately four times the number of war criminals that the US Army has. Essentially, the British have gone out and rocked the boat. They've gone into the towns, they get to know the local troublemakers. When troublemakers start to cause trouble, they go in and they lean on them. It's been very effective. The local troublemakers have respected it, and they've basically ceased and desisted.
TOM BEARDEN: Major General Robert Halverson, who commands the US sector, says it's not his job to pursue war criminals.
MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT HALVERSON: If you read the Dayton Peace Accords, it is not the responsibility of SFOR to do that. We will, however, if we find them, detain them and bring it to the attention of the Hague. But it is not our responsibility to do that. What the British do is the way they feel about it, based upon what they feel in their sector. What we feel in our sector and how we feel we must take care of our soldiers is different.
|Contact between Bosnians and US soldiers|
TOM BEARDEN: General Halverson says the army does make efforts to promote contacts between support troops and civilians.
SOLDIER: Ask her what happened to her nose.
TOM BEARDEN: For example, these members of the headquarters public affairs unit take soldiers on regular visits to an apartment building in Tuzla. It houses dozens of refugee families who were forced at gunpoint to abandon their homes in various parts of the country. The soldiers frequently distribute clothing and toys. This lot was collected by Sergeant Major Richard McCalla's mother in California.
SGT. MAJOR RICHARD McCALLA, California National Guard: They're always very receptive to when we come down here. We come down every couple of weeks -- play on the swings with them, give them some toys, hang out with them. It's one of the better parts of the job over here, so it makes it all worthwhile.
TOM BEARDEN: Soldiers told us the visits give them a chance to do something nice for the Bosnians, and that it cheers everybody up.
SOLDIER INTERPRETING FOR WOMAN: How can you make the decision to leave your boyfriend and come to Bosnia?
FEMALE SOLDIER: Tell her I don't have a boyfriend, so it wasn't a hard decision.
SOLDIER: She can hook you up with her son. (Laughter) She's got you.
FEMALE SOLDIER: I'm being fixed up!
TOM BEARDEN: While she appreciates the donations, Faketa Omerovic has a bigger goal: End her eight-year exile in this building, and return to her home in eastern Bosnia.
FAKETA OMEROVIC: (speaking through interpreter) I visited my house once, but they wouldn't allow me to walk in. A Serb family of refugees lives there now. I just stayed in the car, took a look at the house. It's pretty much ruined and destroyed.
TOM BEARDEN: The Houses in Velika, once a picturesque village South of Brcko, are pretty much destroyed, too. Bosnian Croats used to dominate this region, but surrendered it to the Serbs early in the war, leaving Croatian and Muslim civilians to fend for themselves. Velika's Muslim inhabitants fled, and the village was practically destroyed by artillery fire.
SOLDIER: How are... what are these people doing for electricity?
SPOKESMAN: The electricity situation is none whatsoever in the village, as of now.
TOM BEARDEN: Specialized SFOR units come to places like this to try to fulfill another of the Dayton agreement's goals: Help refugees return to their homes. In Velika, something rare is happening: Bosnian Muslims are returning to a Serb-controlled area and starting the backbreaking task of clearing away the rubble and beginning to rebuild.
TOM BEARDEN: American and Scandinavian soldiers come frequently to document their progress. A village spokesman welcomed the visitors.
SAMIR TESLIC, Village Spokesperson: (speaking through interpreter) Is there any special reason of your visit, some special interests that you have?
MAJOR MICHELLE BARLEAN: We're just today looking at the progress that you've made since our last visit and see how people are coming. It looks like they've done an awful lot of work on their homes.
TOM BEARDEN: Civil Affairs Major Michelle Barlean from Ft. Lewis, Washington, has been visiting Velika since February, when the first family returned. Fifteen more families have followed.
MAJOR MICHELLE BARLEAN: What do you think would encourage more people to come back? What things?
PERSON ON STREET: (speaking through interpreter) Electricity. Electricity is the important thing, because we can't get running water without it. That's the biggest priority, because we can't do anything without it.
TOM BEARDEN: Building materials and money are also in short supply. A few homeowners, like Raif Disdarovic, have gotten money from a Norwegian humanitarian organization.
RAIF DISDARODIC, Village Resident: (speaking through interpreter) I received a donation of 16,700 deutchmarks.
TOM BEARDEN: Is that enough?
RAIF DISDARODIC: (speaking through interpreter) It's going to hardly cover all the expenses.
MAJOR MICHELLE BARLEAN: If you have people that are, are going out of their way, like we saw today, to... with no electricity, with no water, and with limited support from anyone else, coming back on their own with their bare hands and their neighbors to rebuild their houses, then that's something that you want to support.
SOLDIER: And this is?
SPOKESPERSON: Could be cooking some...
TOM BEARDEN: Part of Captain Cathy Raaf's job is to identify projects that are worthy of more international funding.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) So as you can see, we have a house, we have everything, but now it's... Nothing else. Not much to be seen.
TOM BEARDEN: One goal is to target funding for members of minority groups, whether they be Croats, Muslims, or Serbs, to help them return to places from which they were forced.
TOM BEARDEN: Why is the minority aspect of it important?
CAPTAIN CATHIE RAAF, Oregon Army Reserve: We want to get them back to their homes, the homes that they had prior to the war -- but also to get them working together, living together and functioning as one nation.
MAJOR JOHN HANDY, Washington State Army Reserve: There's also another aspect. The international community doesn't want ethnic cleansing to... to have succeeded. And that's probably the... One of the most important things is that we don't want ethnic cleansing to be a success in this country, because then it may occur somewhere else.
TOM BEARDEN: In the midst of toppling rubble and mixing concrete, villagers who have almost nothing insisted the soldiers join them for a cup of strong Bosnian coffee. They said they wanted to show appreciation for their help. The villagers told us they dared come back only because SFOR troops are here. We asked if they thought the fighting would resume if the troops left. The answer was chillingly matter-of-fact. They said, "of course." And that raises the ultimate question: How long will American and other international troops continue to keep the peace in Bosnia?