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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Bosnia's quiet army revolution finds fans

By Nick Hawton
BBC correspondent in Sarajevo

A quiet revolution is taking place in the armed forces of Bosnia.

The country's two armies, one representing the mainly Serb half of the country and the other the Muslim-Croat Federation, have taken the first tentative steps towards merging.

War damage in Sarajevo
Only eight years ago the merging armies were at war
They have both agreed to set up a national Defence Ministry and central command.

It is a powerful sign of how Bosnia is changing and how, perhaps, the international community can begin rethinking its strategy in the Balkan country.

But how genuine is this move towards creating a united Bosnian military?

One senior officer, a veteran of 20 years' service, insists he can happily be part of a defence structure with people he was fighting 10 years ago.

I believe that this proposal for reform is good for our children, for us, for all of this community
Brigadier Hamza Visca
"That is no problem," says Brigadier Hamza Visca, who spent three years defending Sarajevo against the besieging Bosnian Serb forces.

"I believe that this proposal for reform is good for our children, for us, for all of this community."

The brigadier, speaking to me at a Sarajevo military cultural centre, is convinced that the changes under way in his country have far wider implications.

"The process of creating the army of Bosnia-Hercegovina is [part of] a process of creating the whole defence structure in south-east Europe," he says.

The reforms that are currently taking place in the defence structure of Bosnia and Hercegovina are welcome and are happening at the right time
Lieutenant Colonel Mihajlo Vujovic
The reforms will see a major overhaul of the Bosnian military.

The country's two armies, which fought each other only eight years ago, will come together under the same command.

Soldiers will wear the same uniform, swear the same oath and serve under the same flag.

And for the first time ultimate control will rest with the state presidency.

Women grieving Srebrenica victims
The horror of war is still fresh in many people's minds
At a Bosnian Serb army base two hours' drive from Sarajevo across the forested mountains of eastern Bosnia, the reforms have also won acceptance.

"The reforms that are currently taking place in the defence structure of Bosnia and Hercegovina are welcome and are happening at the right time," says Lieutenant Colonel Mihajlo Vujovic.

"I think they will have a positive effect on the defence structure of Bosnia."

His current base at Kuslat is not far from the town of Srebrenica - scene of the war's most infamous massacre.

Colonel Vujovic's own war experience saw him fighting the Muslim-Croat Federation army in south-west Bosnia, close to the border with Croatia.

S-For troops
Bosnian military unity would allow Nato-led peacekeepers to withdraw
The international community is delighted with the progress made. It brings the day closer when Nato-led peacekeepers will be able to leave.

"I think it sends a great message not only to the citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina, but also to the rest of the world that there is a commitment, a desire to move forward and get beyond the very destructive and terrible times that were experienced here during the war," says the US general in charge of Bosnia's peacekeepers, William Kip Ward.

Bosnia still has a long way to go both economically and politically before it can fully emerge from the nightmare of the 1990s.

But if major reforms can be made in such a sensitive area as defence, then that shows real progress and gives hope for all the people of Bosnia.


SEE ALSO:
Bosnian defence unified
27 Sep 03  |  Europe
Ashdown clips Bosnian Serb wings
02 Apr 03  |  Europe
Bosnia edges towards integration
02 Apr 03  |  Europe


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