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Antony Oliver with the Royal Engineers in Bosnia

While the focus of the world's media attention is on the aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia and crisis in Kosovo, it is easy to forget that the UK still has over 5,000 troops patrolling the uneasy peace in Bosnia.

It is three and a half years since the United Nations-backed Dayton Agreement set up a framework for peace in Bosnia. Nato's Implementation Force (IFOR) - troops from 15 nations with the mandate and firepower to enforce the ceasefire and guarantee the new map - has given way to its Stabilisation Force (SFOR) whose job is to act as peace maker rather than peace keeper.

To implement the Dayton agreement Bosnia was split into three multinational divisions - south west, north and south east. The south west division is controlled by the British, the north by the United States and the south east by the French.

Bosnia itself is also split into two self governing entities, the Bosnian Croat/Muslim Federation to the south and the Republic of Serpska to the north. Though still acting as the 'big stick' to discourage these entities from returning to war, SFOR's role is subtly different and much lower profile.

Operating at the heart of this uneasy peace is 22 Regiment Royal Engineers. Since SFOR came into force the REs' focus has shifted away from rebuilding civilian infrastructure to sustaining the military force and enabling troops to react instantly to threats to peace. In addition to their vital combat support role, sappers now concentrate on maintaining the bases, strengthening defences and of course making the lives of the patrolling troops more comfortable.

Sadly, what the troops patrol remains a wrecked corner of the former Yugoslavia. It is still an incredibly beautiful country, but the number of eerie deserted towns, villages and houses of communities displaced by hatred spanning generations highlight the tragedy of civil war. Add to this the thousands of deadly minefields and the long-term picture is fairly bleak.

That said, there is a sense of normality returning. Roads are now actively maintained by local contractors - albeit in a quite low-tech, functional manner.

Rubbish is being collected rather than fly-tipped, although rivers and their banks are still littered with the remains of past dumping. The majority of houses have had power and water supplies restored.

In the populated towns and villages, people are leading a largely subsistence based lifestyle around small agricultural plots. In larger towns, industry is returning to work.

And while events over the last few weeks in Kosovo have had little real effect on Bosnia, they certainly add to the tensions in the area. For 22 Regiment Royal Engineers this also brings an ominous feeling that history is about to repeat itself. Having already been through it once in Bosnia, the knowledge that they will inevitably have to lead the rebuilding of Kosovo is daunting.

Major Matthew Whitchurch is 22 Regiment '2IC' - second in command - and has no doubt that Nato has a role to play in Bosnia. His vast knowledge of military history makes him clear about the priorities there. 'SFOR is the big stick which stops people fighting - the theory is that life will carry on eventually without it. But in the meantime our job is to keep the lid on things and play our part in creating peace.'

Keeping the lid on things is an accurate phrase. The two entities that make up Bosnia continue to be mutually suspicious and political tension is evident. Only last week the president of the Republic was sacked by the UN for acting undemocratically - the prime minister then resigned after his position became untenable. The state therefore remains leaderless and so vulnerable to unrest.

Recent events in Kosovo also add to the tensions. Many of those in the Republic have relatives in Serbia so are clearly not too keen to see Nato troops on the streets. However, they also realise that without Nato they are extremely vulnerable to the superior military power of the Bosnian Croat/Muslim Federation 'enemy' next door.

The reality hit 22 Regiment from the moment it arrived in March. Soldiers were whisked immediately from the airport by helicopter in full battle- dress and put straight into fully armed combat vehicles with the prospect of 'having to bayonet someone the next day'. For two weeks after Nato's bombing started in Serbia, flak jackets and helmets were worn as a precaution. But apart from a couple of minor incidents, and regular anti-Nato demonstrations in the Republic, things have remained calm.

Flak jackets have now again been put back in the stores and the alert should soon return from two hours 'ready to move' back to a more relaxed eight.

'We certainly now get more waves than rocks thrown by the locals,' says Whitchurch. 'There is not the attitude that we are occupying their country. The intention is that as order returns to the nation and the economy starts to pick up, we will recede into the background.'

Whitchurch likens the role to gardening - by preparing the soil and planting the seeds Nato hopes to break out of the vicious circle of war. 'We are just starting to see the first signs of the green shoots of recovery.'

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