The Forgotten Crisis: Siege Mentality; the World Watched in Horror as the Balkans Self-Destructed and Yet without the Efforts of a Few Dedicated Aid Agencies, Bosnia Herzegovina Could Become the Forgotten Crisis. in the First of a Five-Part Series, Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Travelled to the War-Torn Country and Found Stories of Hope and Dire Warnings in Equal Measure
Byline: Paul Groves
The irony was not lost on those who have spent much of the last few years attempting to rebuild a once vibrant country. Indeed, the sense of anger was just as palpable.
As the fledgling international criminal court was born into an uncertain future at the beginning of the month, two of the world's most powerful and influential figures used Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH) as a bargaining tool.
George W Bush and Tony Blair started kicking around the Balkan country badly scarred by years of horrific, at times medieval, conflict that claimed so many lives and brought it to the brink of total ruination. The game of political football brought BiH back into the media spotlight.
Yet BiH itself, regrettably, was not the issue. Rather it was peacekeeping responsibilities at stake, and even they were a side issue to the wider argument.
As those working in BiH quietly seethed, the world once again failed to wake up to the forgotten crisis.
There is so much to worry about in 2002 - Afghanistan and the war on terrorism; the implosion of the Middle East; nuclear-fuelled tensions between India and Pakistan; famine and starvation in Africa. Little wonder, it could be argued, that BiH has slipped so far down the list.
But the humanitarian disaster that developed on our own doorstep a little more than a decade ago has still to be resolved.
It makes the work of those charities and other non-government organisations all the more remarkable. As attention is diverted elsewhere, the likes of World Vision carry on regardless - whether it is helping refugees return home, rebuilding shattered communities, or providing programmes for children with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the charity is strengthening its commitment to BiH while others are considering exit strategies.
But this is no time to give up on BiH as the hard work is only just beginning. The war was triggered by Bosnia's declaration of independence from the Yugoslav Federation ten years ago, which was opposed by Bosnian Serbs. Croatia was also involved in a war between 1991 and 1995 against rebel ethnic Serbs backed by the Yugoslav authorities in Belgrade.
It claimed 200,000 lives and forced more than two million people to flee their homes, while the capital Sarajevo was under siege for 43 months.
World Vision's first activities in the region consisted of relief assistance to around 85,000 displaced people while the war continued to rage and the Dayton peace agreement had still to be implemented. When the fighting ended in 1995, it launched a programme of rehabilitation that focuses mainly on rebuilding BiH's infrastructure and promoting economic development.
It has been a long, painstaking seven years, but World Vision and other agencies are witnessing signs of recovery and hope - albeit on a much smaller scale than they would like.
Such hope can be seen in the work of World Vision's education team in BiH, which is slowly working to end the deep divisions that still exist in many classrooms - not just between pupils, but between teachers.The success in creating a more united education system is having a knock-on effect among parents, although it is accepted not everyone is prepared to forgive and forget so quickly or so easily.
But the team's accomplishment is being closely watched by other agencies working in BiH, and also those working around the world in other countries where children have grown up during bloody conflict and where segregation is still the norm.
Refreshingly for BiH, the four-member team represents a diverse cross-section of Bosnian society. Working in schools they focus on art, sport and music and drama to bring children and teachers together - they also concentrate on trauma counselling.
'We work directly with teachers and they are always with us during each of our sessions,' explained Zeljko Sikima, the team's leader. …