Colonel Bob bids farewell to front

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'WE'VE just about accomplished our mission. People didn't starve here and they didn't freeze to death'. Lt-Col Bob Stewart's final word on his battalion's Bosnian tour yesterday was modest and realistic. He came away laden with gifts - one or two for Mrs Thatcher, greatly esteemed by the Bosnian Muslims.

His final patrol involved calls on the two main sides in the area - the Bosnian Croats (HVO) and the Muslims (BIH), to introduce his successor, Lt Col Alastair Duncan. He first visted the Croats, on the outskirts of Travnik. The HVO's Colonel Leutar was 'in another meeeting'. Col Stewart was not too depressed. 'That solves the loaves and fishes problem,' he said - perhaps there were not enough presents to go round.

The next stop was BIH headquarters in central Travnik - a large former Yugoslav army barracks, with about 100 soldiers milling about on the parade ground. Some wore the red berets of the Bosnian 'special forces'.

The BIH officers were Brigade Commander Caber, of 312 Brigade in Travnik; Beba Salko, a staff officer from the Bosnian III Corps; joined by Colonel Alagic, commanding all three brigades in the Travnik area.

'Tea? Coffee?'

'Hmm', said Col Stewart, 'it's my last day . . .'

Slivovitz was produced, and Bosnian coffee - a delicious legacy of Bosnia's days in the Ottoman empire.

The final call was on Commander Leko, in charge of the Third Battalion, 312 Brigade, at Turbe, 2km from the Serb front line. Col Stewart and Col Duncan swapped their blue berets for helmets and their Land Rover for Warrior infantry fighting vehicles before driving towards the frontline headquarters, roughly sandbagged and piled with logs to ward off shrapnel.

'This is metal, so your wife can throw it at you and it won't break,' said Col Stewart, handing Commander Leko a pewter Cheshire Regiment tankard. 'I would like to come back - on holiday, when you have stopped shooting each other, to find Beba a fat hotel manager making a great deal of money.'

The BIH had laid on a grand farewell for Bosnian Bob. A local presented him with some hand-made embroidery, and some for Mrs Thatcher. There was a letter from the local schoolchildren, thanking the British soldiers for helping reduce tension in the area. 'You exchange your happy life in Britain for life in hell,' it read.

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