Old enemies come together in Bosnia's 'heart of darkness'

As cocktail parties go it was unusual. The emerald-green beret worn by Atif Dudakovic, of the Bosnian army Fifth Corps, was seen amid a crowd gathered at a metal factory in the heartland of his enemies, the city of Banja Luka.

Sadly, his opposite number, the Bosnian Serb general, Momir Talic, sent his regrets. But the gathering was otherwise a roaring success.

The deputy mayor of Banja Luka, local politicians and even a couple from the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, turned up to drink Pimms and celebrate in the Banja Luka headquarters of Nato's British forces.

Major General Michael Jackson had moved his sector HQ from the ruins of Gornji Vakuf, an early casualty of the Muslim-Croat war and a one-horse town at the best of times, to the northern city of Banja Luka.

This city was once described by the UN as "the heart of darkness", on account of the enthusiasm with which local Serbs pursued a policy of "ethnic cleansing". Ironically, it is now seen as the seat of moderate Serbs who have a constructive interest in implementing the Dayton peace plan.

Maj Gen Jackson lists his practical reasons for the move to Banja Luka. It is the only big city in his sector; it allows Nato's implementation force (I-For) to deploy one of its four headquarters in the Srpska Republic; many civilian agencies with which I-For liaises are based in the city; there is also an airport.

The High Representative, Carl Bildt, will open a regional office in Banja Luka today. He also has practical reasons. But beyond those there is a political element: those implementing the Dayton plan have been hampered since December by the hard-line Bosnian Serb leadership, which is based in the mountain village of Pale, near Sarajevo.

There has long been rivalry in the Serb camp between the big city of Banja Luka and the small town of Pale. With the eclipse of Radavan Karadzic, indicted for war crimes, and the loss of the Serb-held suburbs around Sarajevo, which was the justification for making a "capital" in Pale, Banja Luka's leaders scent victory.

Both the military and civilian authorities here welcome the arrival of Maj Gen Jackson, despite the fury in Pale. Maj Gen Jackson shrugs off the controversy. "It has been made a political issue," he said. "If they choose to make it a political issue, that's up to them."

The cocktail party was more than a social occasion. "We were quite determined about what we were trying to do," he said. "Normality is returning. You can have a drink together for a couple of hours."

I-For helicopters ferried in Bosnian leaders from Sarajevo, including Haris Silajdzic, the former prime minister and now leader of a new opposition party. Canadian troops escorted General Dudakovic from his barracks in the city of Bihac.

"It's humiliating that none of our officers is here," one local Serb said crossly. According to sources, the Pale leaders ordered General Talic and his comrades not to attend the party, even though generals Dudakovic and Talic meet frequently and cordially at military commissions chaired by I-For.

As far as the locals are concerned, the deployment of the British in Banja Luka is a good thing. The soldiers have mended roads and other infrastructure, and the I-For base employs around 100 locals and pays them in hard currency.

The presence of the British will encourage aid agencies and international organisations to spend money in the city, which was a no-go area to the UN and most foreigners in the war.

The move will hinder Pale's isolationist policy. It may also discourage visits to the city from Mr Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, who is also indicted for war crimes. But the deployment will be low key. "We don't want tanks rolling down the high street," Maj Gen Jackson said. "We are not here as a occupying army and if we are seen to be that, we will lose credibility."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test