October 13, 2017 / 12:15 PM / in 9 days

EU force helps Bosnian agencies fight terrorists in NATO-backed drill

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A military helicopter lands to evacuate people wounded during a police raid against terrorists who took hostages at Sarajevo airport - part of the first joint drill by the EU peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia and local army and police.

Participants of the European Union Force (EUFOR), Armed Forces, Border Police and State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) of Bosnia and Herzegovina practice an anti-terrorism situation during an exercise at the Sarajevo International Airport, Bosnia and Herzegovina October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

In the exercise, part of the drill dubbed “Quick Response 2017”, Sarajevo is hit by severe flooding, and EUFOR flies in to help the population. There are also protests across the country and a risk of terrorist groups linked to organised crime rings smuggling arms and fake documents.

“This was a realistic exercise and an opportunity to demonstrate that we have capacities, power and determination to quickly and efficiently respond to any security threat,” said Bosnia’s Security Minister Dragan Mektic.

More than 20 years since the end of its war in the 1990s, Bosnia is still troubled by ethnic politicking and external influences. While separatist aspirations by the Bosnian Serb and Croat nationalists grow stronger, there is also a threat of radicalisation among traditionally moderate Bosnian Muslims.

The five-day drill, by the 600- strong EUFOR along with 400 British and NATO troops, also includes reconnaissance and surveillance of wide areas across Bosnia.

In 2015, parts of Bosnia were hit by the greatest flooding in a century, leaving thousands without homes and hurting the economy. The same year, two soldiers and a police officer were killed in separate terrorist attacks.

EUFOR was deployed in Bosnia in late 2004, replacing NATO’s SFOR force to maintain security after the 1992-95 war. Its mandate has been repeatedly extended.

While Bosnia’s central authorities want to join NATO, Bosnian Serbs, who prefer stronger ties with Russia, oppose that and have threatened to hold a referendum on the issue.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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