Three remaining German soldiers are heading home, ending the Bundeswehr’s longest military mission abroad. But there are doubts whether the EU mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina has achieved lasting peace and stability.
The general secretary of Germany's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) expressed his respect and gratitude for a total of 60 000 German soldiers who served in the country over the past 17 years.
“We remember especially the 18 German servicemen who lost their lives in the course of that mission,” Hermann Gröhe said on Thursday.
German soldiers were first deployed in 1996 with the NATO-led Implemntation Force (IFOR), in accordance with the so-called Dayton Accords that ended the three-and-a-half-year-long civil conflict that erupted in 1992 with the breakup of former Yugoslavia and killed 100,000 people.
The international peacekeeping mission destroyed heavy weapons and hunted for war criminals, such as the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, who were eventually brought to justice at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
In 2004 the European mission EUFOR took over the peacekeeping efforts. The German parliament, the Bundestag, renewed its permission for German deployment of up to 800 soldiers in this European Union mission. But numbers had been gradually decreased over the years.
EUFOR Althea, based in Sarajevo, was tasked with building up and training the country's new army in accordance with democratic principles, help establishing an administration and overseeing major infrastructure projects such as road building.
But critics say that while the military mission may have been a success, the attempts at ensuring political stability have failed and the conflict between three ethnic groups could flare up again.
The country with only 4,6 million inhabitants is home to Muslims, Serbs and Croats.
The US and the EU have pushed for constitutional changes that would lead to a more centralized state and allow the country to move closer to the European Union. However, the government of the mainly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, which makes accounts for nearly half of the country's population, rejects the idea of greater centralization.
Mission continues in Germany's absence
The EUFOR Althea mission is not coming to an end this Thursday as other countries' troops remain in Sarajevo.
Senior CDU politician Christian Schwarz-Schilling lambasted Germany's decision to pull out its remaining troops now as a unilateral move that would leave the Bosnian government and other EU countries in a difficult situation
“Germany is telling to the Bosnians to just go and fend for themselves,” he told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Thursday. “I doubt that this is the right message in a relatively chaotic region.”
Schwarz-Schilling was a government Minister in Germany until he resigned in 1992 in anger at Germany's inaction over atrocities in the Balkans. He subsequently served as a mediator in efforts to bring peace to the country. He also served a year as the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from mid-2006 to mid-2007.
Bundeswehr soldiers has been deployed abroad since German reunification in 1990. Currently over 6,000 German soldiers are involved in peacebuilding und peacekeeping missions in Europe, Africa and Asia.
rg/pfd (DAPD, dpa)