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. Multi-ethnic Bosnian army unit leaves for Iraq
SARAJEVO (AFP) Jun 01, 2005
The first multi-ethnic unit of the Bosnian army, comprised of Croats, Muslims and Serbs, left for Iraq on Wednesday to assist US-led forces clear unexploded ordnance.

Bosnian leaders said they hoped the deployment would change the country's image from one dependent on foreign peacekeepers to a country able to contribute to international security.

"Make the world recognize us by your professionalism and efficiency, and not the past war, poverty and the high unemployment rate," Bosnia's top general, Sifet Podzic, told the soldiers before they embarked.

The unit of 36 ordnance experts from the former Yugoslav republic's ethnically divided armies will be deployed in western Iraq near the flashpoint town of Fallujah.

Members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, army commanders, the US commander of NATO troops in Bosnia as well as foreign diplomats attended a farewell ceremony at Sarajevo airport.

"This ceremony undoubtedly represents an important and historic moment for Bosnia-Hercegovina," presidency chairman Borislav Paravac said, adding that it marked a "new phase in building our foreign policy".

The soldiers, including one woman, were dressed in US desert camouflage uniforms as they boarded a US army plane bound for Iraq on the first six-month rotation for the Bosnian contingent.

Bosnia's mainly symbolic involvement in Iraq is seen here as a demonstration of its progress since the end of its 1992-1995 war, which pitted Croats, Muslims and Serbs against each other and left more than 200,000 dead.

Some 7,000 European Union peacekeepers replaced a NATO force in Bosnia last year. Bosnia hopes to join Euro-Atlantic structures like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Bosnia's three main ethnic groups continue to maintain independent armed forces, but the troops are united in their enthusiasm for the wages in Iraq.

They will be paid 2,580 euros (3,160 dollars) a month, about 10 times more than they receive at home. Unemployment is around 40 percent in Bosnia and more than 20 percent of its population lives under the poverty line.

General Podzic said many troops were keen to go to Iraq and there were already "too many" volunteers.

Opposition parties and human rights groups have criticised the deployment, saying the initial US-led Iraq war was not authorised by the United Nations even though coalition forces currently in Iraq have a UN mandate.

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