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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 18:47 GMT
Eufor: A step forward or sideways?

By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Sarajevo

The most significant peacekeeping mission ever undertaken by the European Union began its life in a huge white tent which, under normal circumstances, is used by the US army as a gym.

A European badge fixed to a vehicle in Bosnia
On the surface, Eufor merely has to continue Nato's work
The handover ceremony from Nato to EU peacekeepers took place at Camp Butmir, the main Nato base in Bosnia. The weights and exercise machines had been pushed to one side to cater for the several hundred guests.

The band of the British Dragoon Guards took their places on stage - their bright red tunics, distinctive brass helmets and white plumes adding an exotic air to proceedings.

A swift turn of foot by the Nato and EU generals, and the S-For peacekeeping flag was replaced with the gold and blue flag of the European Union.

After nine years the Nato peacekeeping mission was over, the EU mission just begun. And so to the speeches.

"This event undoubtedly represents another huge step forward by Bosnia Hercegovina in pursuing a lasting and sustainable peace on its path to European integration," said Borislav Paravac, the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency.

And, as if to prove how much Bosnia has moved on from the dark days of the mid-90s, a Bosnian ceremonial guard containing Muslims, Serbs and Croats had pride of place below the podium.

All this is part of a journey to the only possible destination, the European institutions
Javier Solana
EU foreign policy chief
This was the first public appearance of the only Bosnian military unit containing all three nationalities. Less than a decade ago, they were involved in Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II.

International politicians had flown in especially to lend their support for the handover.

"This is a truly historic occasion," beamed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's Secretary-General.

"This is a watershed in Bosnia's development and it's proof of a developing co-operation between Nato and the European Union," he said.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also put in an appearance. "Today the European Union assumes a new responsibility which will be carried out in the same spirit and with the same efficiency as its predecessors from Nato. All this is part of a journey to the only possible destination, the European institutions."

The generals who will be leading Eufor - and also a slimmed down Nato headquarters in Sarajevo - were almost forgotten amidst the political scrum.

Soldier's from Eufor in Bosnia

But, in a sense, the real business only gets under way now.

On the surface, Eufor merely has to pick up where the Nato peacekeepers left off; patrolling the country, carrying out weapons collections, providing reassurance to local people.

But the mission also faces two key challenges.

The first is to deal with the whole issue of war criminals. While Nato managed to arrest 28 people indicted by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it singularly failed to arrest the two people at the top of the most wanted list, the former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Can Eufor do any better?

Secondly, Eufor will have to prove that it really can launch and carry out a serious peacekeeping mission with thousands of troops on the ground.

Do the internal structures within the EU allow for such a mission? If it proves a success, then Eufor could, in the future, be deployed in other trouble spots like the Middle East and neighbouring Kosovo.

EU force starts Bosnian mission
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13 Feb 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
22 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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