EU takes over Bosnia peacekeeping
The European Union began its biggest-ever military operation Thursday, formally taking over NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia with 7,000 troops.
The European Union flag replaced NATO's at the transfer ceremony in Sarajevo, attended by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, Javier Solana, as well as the Bosnian three-member presidency.
"This is a truly historic occasion," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "This is a watershed in Bosnia-Herzegovina's development and proof of the developing cooperation between NATO and the European Union."
"The progress Bosnia-Herzegovina has made was unimaginable in the earlier 1990s," he said.
A 60,000 troops strong, multinational NATO-led force crossed the border of wartorn Bosnia in December 1995 to silence the guns of the three armies locked in Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II.
Bosnia's 1992-95 war between its Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats killed 260,000 and forced half of the country's 4 million people to flee their homes. It ended with a U.S.-brokered peace agreement, which the alliance implemented without any combat casualties.
The troops separated the three ethnic armies, pushed them back to their barracks and disarmed them. The peace allowed diplomats to start rebuilding Bosnia's state institutions.
Over the years, the security situation improved enough to allow NATO to decrease the number of troops to the current level of 7,000. Under NATO leadership, the country started slowly melting its three ethnically divided armed forces into one army to apply for NATO membership.
British Maj. Gen. David Leakey, the commander of EUFOR, told reporters last week his force had a mandate as strong as its predecessor.
The United States also plans to keep about 150 of its own troops in the country.