Return to the land he never really left

Week in the Life of COLONEL BOB STEWART, BOSNIA

DAY ONE, Sarajevo: In polo shirt and loafers, Colonel Bob Stewart, former land commander of the 1st battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, arrives back in the country he left six years ago. Then, he was a colonel aboard a Warrior armoured vehicle. Today, an unarmed civilian, he looks a little nervous and vulnerable. This extroverted bear of a man was outspoken as commander of the first British battalion to move into Bosnia; he made many friends and enemies and has just given evidence to the war crimes tribunal at the Hague. He reminds me that "there are at least two psychopaths here who want to kill me".

His first impression of Sarajevo, made from the air, is of a city half rebuilt. The Olympic stadium is open again. The Holiday Inn is repaired and painted a sickly yellow and ghastly brown. But other buildings seem to stay up by will power alone.

A young woman says that, despite the street cafes and restaurants, for most people there is no work and no hope of a normal life. Some of those who survived the longest siege in modern history are now taking their own lives.

DAY TWO, AHMICI: Col Stewart stood beside the doorway where he discovered the twisted remains of a family six years before. He is back in the small central town of Ahmici, the scene of a massacre that reduced him and his soldiers to tears. Today he is thanked by survivors. His loud words and extrovert manner mask his emotions.

Now he has a name for the charred remains he found inside this doorway: Dzehmal Ahmic. He admits ghosts are being laid to rest. His soldiers buried 103 people here.

A Dutch army unit, part of the Nato stabilisation force, arrived in Ahmici as we did. Officially, they came to patrol the village; unofficially, to see us. There is respect from many who serve here now for the man who fought his way into and out of many dangerous positions, a man who bent orders to defend aid convoys. It is admiration and respect not always echoed at the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office.

DAY THREE, THE GENERAL: We meet a man he respects and admires, Brigadier General Dzemal Merdan, who led the Bosnian Muslim forces in the area Col Stewart commanded. After persuasion from his British counterpart, the general gave evidence to the war-crimes tribunal. "He was and is an honourable man," the colonel says. There is a camaraderie of old soldiers between the two.

"Have you come for your holiday?" asks the Brigadier General. No, his trip is to raise awareness of war crimes and of how few people have been punished. After all the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, only 90 people have been charged with crimes by the tribunal. More than 60 of those are still free.

DAY FOUR, THE PRESIDENT: We sit outside the presidential building, beneath a shrapnel-scarred tree. We are here to meet one of the three joint-presidents of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, now a frail, elderly man. The two have never met, but Mr Izetbegovic has passed messages of thanks to the colonel. Now they speak of the evidence he has given in one war-crimes trial and of appearances to come in others.

Col Stewart began by doing what he believed was the job of an officer in the British army, to protect civilians and prevent war crimes. Then, he did all he could to draw attention to the atrocities and to those who have not yet stood trial. Now, he is demanding action to find and bring to justice those responsible for atrocities.

"Only six people have been arrested for what happened in Ahmici," he says. "At least 70 took part." The President promises more work against war criminals, but it is unlikely to happen. The head of the United Nations in Bosnia, Jaques Paul Klein, says the number of people accused of war crimes who are still free is an embarrassment.

DAY FIVE, HOME: While we drive to the airport Col Stewart works on his new book, which he calls Both Feet In It. His first memoirs were a great success. At home, his wife, Claire, is expecting their third child. She was a Red Cross worker in his area.

Until our trip, he has never been back to Bosnia, but in truth he never really left.

PAUL WELSH

Colonel Stewart returned to Bosnia with BBC Breakfast News; its coverage begins today.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
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

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?