Friday, 29 June 2007 02:00
New Zealand first became involved in the former Yugoslavia in February 1992 when the United Nations (UN) requested troops be sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina to contribute to the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). By the end of 1992, seven New Zealanders were permanently assigned to UNPROFOR as military observers.
As the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina deteriorated, a further request from the UN led to a reinforced infantry company of 250 men arriving from New Zealand in September 1994. These men were based in Santici Camp near Vitez, 60 kilometres north-west of Sarajevo, and at the time were the largest operational deployment of the New Zealand Army since the Vietnam War. The principal task of this company was to monitor compliance with the agreements reached between the Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim authorities and to improve the freedom of movement and general quality of life of people in its area of responsibility. By late 1995, the Kiwi area of responsibility was widely regarded as one of the most settled areas in central Bosnia. A total of 261 New Zealanders were serving in Bosnia at this time.
After the signing of the Dayton Agreement, the majority of the New Zealand force returned to the Southern Hemisphere in early 1996, leaving a handful of officers serving with the British contingent of the NATO Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Banja Luka. These officers were then integrated into EUFOR in 2004 and in addition, New Zealand troops manned one of the first EUFOR Liaison and Observation Teams (LOTs) in Prijedor. As the ‘public face’ of EUFOR, the LOTs are designed to allow local civilians easy access to EUFOR soldiers.
As part of EUFOR transition, the New Zealand LOT mission ended on 5 April 2007, leaving only 3 New Zealand staff officers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, working in EUFOR Multi-National Task Force North West under the command of Brigadier Chris Murray of the British Army. This Task Force has now closed signalling the end of New Zealand involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Speaking at the flag lowering ceremony on Friday, Rear Admiral Witthauer stated, “Your countries association with Bosnia-Herzegovina has been a long and rewarding one for EUFOR and the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina on one hand and on the other hand for the New Zealand defence forces”. Also attending the ceremony was Brigadier Paul Southwell, the New Zealand Defence Attaché in London, who commented “ This occasion is special, because it does mark the departure of our military from Bosnia, but not necessarily the departure of our interest in this area”.
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