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Canadian to command Sector South


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(just in case you didn‘t read this in the Ottawa Citizen)


Canadian general taking charge of healing Bosnia‘s wounds
War crimes suspects ‘need to be found and held accountable‘
Mike Blanchfield
The Ottawa Citizen

The wounds from Bosnia‘s three-year civil war and genocide will never heal until high-profile war crimes suspects are brought to justice, says a Canadian general who assumes NATO command next week of a large block of the embattled Balkan country.

"At the end of the day, the country will never, never have a chance of getting better and healing itself until all those scoundrels who originated those terrible atrocities are found and held accountable for what they did," Maj.-Gen. Rick Hillier said in an exclusive interview with the Citizen this week, hours before boarding a plane to the Bosnia, where he is to assume command of a multinational peacekeeping force.

"None of those folks should sleep comfortably in their beds at night thinking that they‘re just going to get away with this for the rest of their lives."

On Monday, Maj.-Gen. Hillier formally takes command of some 6,000 to 8,000 troops in Sector Southwest of Bosnia, one of three such sectors into which NATO peacekeepers have divided the war-torn country. Canada contributes 1,800 of the 31,000 troops in NATO‘s Bosnia stabilization force.

The one-year assignment gives Maj.-Gen. Hillier command of battlegroups from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, the highest-profile mission for a Canadian military commander since the Second World War.

In a wide-ranging interview, Maj.-Gen. Hillier described the challenges his mission will face in the coming year, which include safeguarding fall national elections and ensuring enough stability to repatriate the country‘s 1.1 million refugees.

But Maj.-Gen. Hillier singled out the arrest of war crimes suspects, such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, as one of the key contributions the peacekeepers could make towards restoring stability to a country wracked by ethnic cleansing during its 1992 to 1995 civil war.

Since they set up shop in Bosnia five years ago, NATO peacekeepers have faced heavy criticism for failing to arrest indicted war criminals charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The NATO force has been accused of wilful blindness, while western governments have been criticized for lacking the political will to bring Mr. Karadzic, and about two dozen others, to justice.

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department offered a $5-million U.S. bounty for the arrest of Mr. Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic. Both men are charged with atrocities relating to the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of thousands of Muslims in the enclave of Srebrenica in 1995. The same reward was also offered for the arrest of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who faces a war crimes indictment for masterminding the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

Maj.-Gen. Hillier defends against the criticism levelled at peacekeepers for allowing accused war criminals to remain at large. But he also understands the need to rectify that situation.

When NATO peacekeepers first arrived in 1995, they had more pressing worries than arresting the likes of Mr. Karadzic. Serb, Croat and Muslim combatants needed to be disarmed. Creating a relative level of stability took precedence, he said.

"Now the other things we couldn‘t get at ... become more of a priority," Maj.-Gen. Hillier said.

However, the passage of time has also made it more difficult to find the high-profile suspects. Mr. Mladic and many others are believed to have fled Bosnia. The downsizing of NATO forces in Bosnia in recent years has provided an advantage to the fugitives, such as Mr. Karadzic, who are believed to the

Maj.-Gen. Hillier is vague about whether his mandate includes having troops actively participating in the hunt for war criminals.

"Many organizations are actively looking," he said, declining to elaborate.

Maj.-Gen. Hillier has lost track of the number of trips he‘s made to Bosnia since the end of the war. He spent more than a year there in 1995 to 1996 as a top military adviser, first at the United Nations, then at NATO. Most recently, he finished an exchange program at the U.S. army‘s massive base in Fort Hood, Texas, where he trained several thousand U.S. troops for peacekeeping assignments in Bosnia.

Bosnia became the focus of Canada‘s international peacekeeping efforts when the government last year recalled the 1,400 troops it had in Kosovo, and scaled back the record number of personnel it had deployed across the globe.

While Bosnia has been relatively stable compared with some of its Balkan neighbours, ethnic tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface of a shattered economy and a fragile government.

Reminders of the war continue to surface. Earlier this month, peacekeepers unearthed a mass grave containing the remains of almost 50 Muslims killed by Serb forces in 1992. The bodies were found under a garbage dump.

"It‘s why we are in Bosnia," Maj.-Gen. Hillier said of the latest discovery. "There are more mass graves found every day. That‘s a sad point."

The immediate challenge, he said, is to maintain order in the run-up to national elections on Nov. 11.

Bosnia‘s parliament dissolved earlier this month because the highly nationalistic Serb Democratic party -- a party founded by Mr. Karadzic -- toppled the more moderate, western-backed ruling party in a non-confidence vote.

Moderate leaders are viewed as the key to democratic peace in Bosnia. If they lose ground, that could lead to trouble, Maj.-Gen. Hillier predicted.

"The moderates started to gain more ground, and some of the nationalistic parties and individuals, particularly, started to lose some power. Hopefully, that will continue. In reality, they‘ve got a long, long way to go. I won‘t say I‘m entirely optimistic that the election is going to change Bosnia."
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