The European Union has taken over control of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina today (December 2), the largest mission the Union has ever embarked upon.
A ceremony in Sarajevo marked the historic conclusion of the Nato-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the launch of the European Union’s follow-on, EUFOR.
SFOR has been brought to a successful end almost exactly nine years since Nato deployed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, in what was the Alliance’s first peacekeeping operation.
The decision reflects the improved security situation in the country.
“Today is truly a day for celebration – for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also for the wider international community,” said Nato Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer at the handover ceremony.
He said the progress the country had made was unimaginable in the early 1990s. People no longer lived in fear, state institutions had been established and there was respect for human rights.
The successful end of SFOR does not spell the end of Nato’s engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however. While the European Union assumes responsibility for peacekeeping operations, Nato will maintain a headquarters in Sarajevo to assist the country with defence reform.
It will also carry out some operational tasks, in co-ordination with the European Union, including counter-terrorism and assistance in apprehending persons indicted for war crimes.
The handover was also proof of the “developing cooperation between Nato and the European Union,” Mr. De Hoop Scheffer said.
The 7,000-strong EUFOR mission will be led by Britain and supported by Nato under the so-called ‘Berlin Plus’ arrangements, which provide a framework for Nato-EU cooperation.
In reality the handover will mean little change on the ground, as some 80% of the troops currently serving under Nato's banner will simply swap their badges for those of EUFOR.
The ceremony, held at SFOR Headquarters, saw the mission’s flag replaced by the flag of EUFOR and the formal establishment of Nato’s new headquarters in Sarajevo.