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UNA Twickenham and Richmond: Operation Sharp Guard

NATO operation in support of UN Security Council Resolution 757 and 820 prohibiting trade with Serbia and Montenegro. 1993 - 95

TRUNA pub lunch 5 October 2019 TRUNA member and former UN Peacekeeper David Irwin was the speaker at our recent pub lunch when he gave a fascinating and eye-opening account of his work with UN Operation Sharp Guard 1993-95, established to monitor UN trade sanctions against Serbia. Reasons for attempting sanctions violations were varied: ranging from cash-strapped countries with a plentiful supply of oil to sell, through ideological sympathy with the Serbian cause, to those countries willing to yield to Serbian pressure in return for suppression of incriminating evidence or even just for an ego boost!

David himself was based at Bari on the Italian coast – convenient for patrolling the Adriatic coast of former Yugoslavia. He was a Radio Operator, acting as first point of contact between the ship launching the boarding party and any potentially violating vessel. He also served on inland board and search operations on the Danube and Tisza rivers. This involved smaller patrol craft of the Romanian and Hungarian navies. (The great days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire might be past with no remaining Hungarian coastline, but Hungary still has a navy!)

We were told some of the tricks of the trade. Often the first response of the suspected vessel was to claim non-comprehension – they didn’t speak English. That was easily dealt with by David – he wowed the TRUNA audience, including our Hungarian Treasurer, Brigitta Szabó, with his considerable skill in Italian and Hungarian! (I forgot to ask how many other languages he has in his repertoire). And smugglers who thought they could pass off diesel in the base of the ship as water had reckoned without the inspectors’ knowledge that diesel is considerably lighter than water.

David remarked that war is a bad thing but it changes people, creating a very strong bond between those working together in such circumstances. He and former colleagues have frequent reunions and renew their ‘blue beret’ vows: that they are all brothers and sisters whatever their nationality. He observed that sanctions were effective in this case, demonstrating that the UN is not just a talking shop: in the end they played a significant part in toppling the Milošević regime.

Report by Hilary Evans