December 21, 1995
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT)
From Correspondents Jim Clancy and Christiane Amanpour
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Just after dawn Wednesday, British NATO forces began a deployment that would for the first time put NATO troops directly on the front lines between the Bosnian Serbs and their opponents in the nearly four-year civil war.
Armored columns of the 2nd Battalion headed by British warriors -- with carriers equipped with 30 millimeter cannons as well as machine guns -- threaded their way around the snow-laden mountains of Northern Bosnia and through cities, where civilians stopped to watch the convoy.
The British forces set out to position themselves so they can patrol and monitor zones of separation between the Bosnian Serbs and the confederation of Muslims and Croats.
By making its move immediately on D-day, NATO sent a clear message that its implementation force was here to do the job and keep the peace. Their no-nonsense, purposeful approach reassured Bosnians, who felt it signaled NATO's intentions to make the peace deal work on the ground.
A Muslim refugee who had only just returned to his home in Donji Vakuf said he hadn't heard NATO was coming because his television and radio had been stolen. "But God willing, they will be better than the U.N.," he said.
"The great majority of the people say enough," said Admiral Leighton Smith of the NATO Southern Command, who was finally able to land when the fog lifted temporarily. "They are sick and tired of this war."
-- Admiral Leighton Smith
After the official transfer of military command, troops removed the U.N. insignias from their vehicles and their uniforms. Commanders said IFOR, the implementation force, had local support, but they also noted that the United Nations had accomplished a great deal here.
"There is certainly every indication that the factions welcome the introduction of IFOR, but at the same time don't rubbish the U.N.," said Maj. Chris Pooth of the British Army. "The U.N. has done a fine job here." (221K AIFF sound or 221K WAV sound)
The British IFOR troops have set up a temporary base camp in Mrkonjic Grad, and they will use it for logistics and support. They are accompanied by artillery batteries that can deliver swift support if the implementation force comes under attack.
The otherwise serene handover was marred by a motor accident in which at least one person was killed. An IFOR vehicle and a civilian vehicle, each with two occupants, collided near Vdbina, Croatia. One of the civilians was killed, and his companion was hospitalized in Grozadac. The condition of the IFOR personnel was unknown. An IFOR spokesperson said the accident is under investigation.
Earlier in the day, the formal changing of guard ceremony between the United Nations Protection Force and NATO took place a little later than scheduled, thanks to thick tufts of fog that delayed the arrival of the NATO commander.
"The great majority of the people say enough," said Admiral Leighton Smith of the NATO Southern Command, who was finally able to land when the fog lifted temporarily. "They are sick and tired of this war. They want peace and we are here to help them." (170K AIFF sound or 170K WAV sound)
The NATO and U.N. commanders exchanged certificates of change, and afterwards the U.N. special envoy expressed what many have come to believe -- that this was not the U.N.'s finest hour; that Bosnia has left the world body battered and bowed.
"The world cannot claim ignorance," said U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.
It's now NATO's turn to try and make that turn-around to peace happen in Bosnia. The physical signs of change are already apparent. For instance, the U.N. sign came down outside the Tuzla base where the U.S. army will now take residence.
But whether the change of forces will result in healing the deeply-scarred face of Bosnia is yet to be seen: a fact that NATO is more than aware of.
NATO commander Lt. Gen. Michael Walker hopes that within three months the world should know whether the rival sides are truly committed -- whether a real peace is taking hold in Bosnia.
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