International, local officials pay homage to Bosnia crash victims
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Twelve international officials, including five Americans, who died in a U.N. helicopter crash were honored Thursday for ``serving the cause of peace and reconciliation″ in Bosnia.
``The tragic loss of these gifted and dedicated representatives of the international community is a sorrowful blow to their organizations and to everyone working for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina,″ U.S. Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, commander of the NATO-led peace mission in Bosnia, said in a statement.
The crash Wednesday claimed the lives of senior German diplomat Gerd Wagner, 55, a deputy to top peace mediator Carlos Westendorp of Spain, and 11 other international representatives trying to strengthen Bosnia’s fragile reconciliation.
The helicopter’s four Ukrainian crew members survived the crash, two of them with light injuries.
Leah Melnick, a U.S. human rights worker from Newton Center, Mass., British diplomat Charles Morpath, and Germans Juergen Schauff and Thomas Reinhard, all of whom died in the crash, worked with Wagner in the Office of the High Representative. That is the organization coordinating the civilian side of peace efforts in Bosnia.
Besides Melnick, the Americans killed were:
_ David Kriskovich, 56, of Spotsylvania, Va., who worked for the FBI and Department of Justice before becoming deputy commissioner of the U.N. International Police Task Force in Bosnia;
_ Livio Beccaccio, 58, of Spotsylvania, Va., a police officer and FBI special agent who retired in 1995 and was Kriskovich’s assistant in Bosnia;
_ Marvin Padgett, 46, a police investigator from Floral City, Fla., with 24 years’ experience. Padgett was helping to train police in Bosnia;
_ William Nesbitt of Palmyra, Tennessee, a Bosnia program manager for the Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.
Also killed were Georg Stiebler of Unna, Germany, and Andrzej Buler of Zielona Gora, Poland, both police monitors working on police reform in Bosnia; and Peter Backes of Germany, an aide to German parliament member Christian Schwarz-Schilling.
``These men and this woman were serving the cause of peace and reconciliation, dedicated to building under exceptionally difficult circumstances what was envisioned at Dayton almost two years ago,″ President Clinton said in Washington.
``We are determined to carry forward their vital work.″
At the crash site, peace force soldiers in helicopters and armored vehicles, supported by local police, continued recovery operations Thursday. Some of the remains were still in the wreckage.
German soldiers have been guarding the site, cordoned off by white tape, around the clock since Wednesday afternoon. Two American Black Hawk helicopters buzzed overhead, filming the area and apparently simulating the flight of the U.N. helicopter prior to the crash.
Local peasants, still stunned by the crash, wandered near the site and sold locally made cheese to German soldiers. A Franciscan priest blessed the dead.
A public memorial service was to be held in Sarajevo on Saturday morning.
U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said that an investigation was under way, and that weather may have played a role in the crash. The chopper crashed into a mountainside in thick fog.
The delegation led by Wagner was en route to Muslim-controlled Bugojno, 55 miles northwest of Sarajevo, to encourage the continued return of ethnic Croat refugees to their prewar homes.
The helicopter crash ``shook us all, especially because of the fact that a simple and noble man has died,″ said Mayor Dzevad Mlaco of Bugojno (pronounced BOO-goy-no) on Thursday. ``He connected people.″
It was the worst accident involving international envoys in the Balkans since April 1996, when a plane carrying U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown from Tuzla, Bosnia, to Dubrovnik, Croatia, plowed into a mountain in a heavy storm. Brown and 34 others aboard were killed.