History

Dayton Accords: 25 Years Of Bosnia Peace Agreement

Under the terms of the Dayton Agreement, NATO took over peacekeeping for the Balkans.

Twenty-five years ago, leaders from the three warring factions of the former Yugoslavia signed a peace treaty that laid the ground rules to end the bitter conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Dayton Peace Accords were agreed on 21 November 1995 at Wright-Patterson base in Dayton, Ohio, and formally signed in Paris on 14 December 1995.

They brought an end to four years of bloody fighting between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

More than 100,000 former Yugoslavs lost their lives and more than two million were displaced from their homes, in a deliberate policy of what came to be known as 'ethnic cleansing'.

The Bosnian War remains the most brutal conflict in Europe since the Second World War. 

Under the terms of The Dayton Agreement, 60,000 NATO soldiers took over peacekeeping duties from the UN and the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) arrived in the Balkans to make sure the treaty was implemented.

A young Bombardier, now Lieutenant Colonel, Baz Barrett was part of that NATO force in December 1995. 

He was stationed outside the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

"Villages and buildings literally shot to pieces, livestock just looked like they'd been killed in place, bodies in ditches, bodies in houses," he said. 

One of the terms of Dayton was to establish a complex system of power-sharing between Bosnia’s three major ethnic groups.

It was Lt Col Barrett's job to go out and secure boundaries between designated areas for Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims.

He and his troops painted orange lines along the ZOS – zones of separation – which highlighted to all who sat on which side of the fence.

He said: "It was quite a dangerous task looking back at it now.

"I wonder were we wise just walking across fields hoping that you're not going to find a minefield that's migrated, some booby traps that some of the locals had put up to protect farms and buildings.

He said the relationships they forged with the locals were important.

"That's what we wanted to do, interact with the locals, get a feel for people's perception of what was going on and try and make a difference. Gathering intelligence as we went about our business and then feeding that back."

Another of Lt Col Barrett's early tasks was to provide security at a top-level meeting between local leaders.

He remembers: "So the meeting took place in a small town called Jezero. It was our base location at that time, [with a] very small supermarket.

"Orders came down to us from our chain of command that there was going to be a high-profile meeting run by General Jackson with a lot of high-ranking dignitaries, it was the first major meeting.

"There were a number of roadblocks in and around that supermarket within that small township of Jezero.

"Huge amounts of bodyguards turned up, whether you were on the Serbian side, the Croatian side, or the Muslim side of the house, all turned up with the key personalities with their huge bodyguards, their different weapons systems."

In 1997 Lt Col Barrett returned to Bosnia for a second tour.

"Completely different. People were back to what looked like normality: businesses, shops were all open, there was a freedom of movement in and out of towns, villages, Sarajevo itself, so things certainly looked like they were on the upward trend."

This time his detail was to help hunt down suspected war criminals to face charges at the Hague.

He recalls: "Was Slobodan Milosevic still around? Was Radovan Karadzic still around? What was [Franjo] Tudjman up to? They were the big cards, the big players.

Lt Col Barrett remembers what a hard task it was gathering information about these people: "Things were so difficult, and the intelligence was so vague.

"Trying to find these needles in a haystack, which they really were. Well-supported, [they] really went underground when they needed to and people put up walls when you asked questions.

"They got the message that people were looking for them, so if that helped stop war crimes and stopped atrocities then, great."

He added: "ARRC had a huge role to play for the best part of 12 months and I think we saw when I went back in '97  that things had moved on and that was probably down to the huge success that the ARRC headquarters had given, not only to the country, not only to the local Bosnian people, but to NATO itself as a hugely successful peacekeeping force on the ground."