Croat extremists put Drvar into the spotlight in April 1998 with murders and riots against returning Serbs and the international community. It was the most serious outbreak of violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Dayton Peace Agreement signed in 1995.
Croats rioted in a town they dominate in western Bosnia, burning down a United Nations police station and setting fire to other buildings in an outburst of anger linked to the return of Serb refugees, CNN reports show. By nightfall, Canadian troops attached to NATO were enforcing an uneasy peace in Drvar, a town of 17,000 where tensions between Serbs and Croats had been bubbling for weeks.
Fourteen people were injured.
During the riots, Canadian SFOR troops secured the urban and rural areas of Drvar. One of them was Stephen Schriver, then a 25-year old Canadian trooper, now a 46-year old veteran, who two decades later is seeking to find closure. He told N1's Ika Ferrer Gotić that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the country of his first deployement in his military and private contractor career.
In his letter to N1, he stated:
I'm certain everyone could tell you the most memorable days of their lives, from the happiest, saddest and most definitely any day that in some way changed their lives or planted seed that would forever grow to affect them!
I believe a day can be considered a "great" day based on a few things. I feel if a single day has enough depth to remain important decades later, to create bonds for life or to affect some in a positive way at the expense and cost of others in a negative way... it is a great day! Not all "great" days start and end happily.
It is safe to say that in Drvar on April 24th, 1998. would be one of those days for me and a small group of my colleagues, my brothers in arms. It would be a day that triggered a number of emotions for the very first time. A day that would set the tone and help prepare us for many more struggles in life, however for some it may leave a scar, a hole or an inner wound that never completely heals. The events from this day and days that followed would leave me... if not all of us without closure or full understanding of what really happened. Thoughts and concerns for many civilians we grew to know over time would also be left unanswered and strangely for me, this would prove to be one of those holes or empty pages from that chapter in my life.
Not long ago while training to go overseas with another group it was said "when all hell breaks loose your brains turn to water and leak out your ears, all you have to rely on is your instincts and your brother to the left and right of you!" If it wasn't for the great soldiers and leadership I was surrounded by, this I know! We wouldn't have survived. We wouldn't have accomplished our main objective and most certainly many people would have died. No question.
We were there primarily because of murders that had taken place and that town had lost its stability. As a member of a Mortar Platoon with 2 RCHA E Bty we were originally posted at Camp Ćoračići. We were responsible for many tasks which included foot and vehicle patrols for the entire region. It was ROTO 2 with SFOR (stabilization force).
We were tasked to join a larger group of Canadian RCR and RCHA members at a base camp in Drvar. This is where we would set out to assist other local law enforcement with patrols and site security. Together with our presence and over watch we hoped to calm and maintain the peace until things could be stable on their own. There was a building complex located near the center of town which we would know as "site 153". This is where many returnees came back to live again after the war and tensions were high. So needless to say after some recent murders our presence was required before things became worse!
We completely surrounded the complex with barbed wire fencing, barricades and armored vehicles at all the entrances. They were manned 24/7 so all civilian traffic in and out of the complex could be controlled. The Mortar platoon stayed inside an abandoned school where we slept, ate and rotated our shifts from there."
Stephen's story continues with friendships he had lost but managed to rebuild in over twenty years. With the help of our fellow journalists, N1 has managed to locate Steve's friends from Drvar and the surrounding towns.
Steve's story will continue in April, when he visits Drvar for the first time in two decades.