Switzerland is beginning its pullout of Bosnia-Herzegovina, after five years spent helping the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Since 1996, when the mission began, Switzerland has been the main provider of logistic support.
On Monday, the regional bases in Mostar and Tuzla will be shut down. The third regional base in Banja Luka will close in November, followed by the headquarters in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
For four years, 45 men and women, who form an unarmed military unit known as the yellow berets, have provided expertise and assistance in the fields of medical supply and care, mail services, transport and vehicle maintenance.
"We are grateful to the Swiss government for its very valuable support during these four years," said Ambassador Robert Barry, who is the head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia.
Barry told swissinfo that the importance of Switzerland's contribution must be seen in the light of the fact that there was no infrastructure in the country when the mission began. Getting people, mail or medical services to all parts of the country was a challenge.
The Swiss Headquarters Support Unit is due to assist in Bosnia and Herzegovina's elections in November. They will provide logistical support and road transport. The Support Unit has helped facilitate the smooth running of four past elections.
The gap left by Switzerland's departure, decided by the government last December, will be filled by commercial companies in Bosnia. Barry said the OSCE was now in the process of inviting bids to do most of the jobs the Swiss were doing.
But, as the Swiss are pulling out, Barry is confident they will continue to contribute to the nation-building process in Bosnia. He said he had already been holding talks with the Swiss and Nordic countries on a programme to help train Bosnia's armed forces.
The OSCE's mission is to promote democratic values, monitor and further the development of human rights and organise elections.
by Malcolm Shearmur
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