The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

Lawman in Bosnia wears Fauquier badge, U.N. beret

Saturday, March 29, 1997, 0:00
Section: Bosnia,Journalism

The Potomac NewsThis story originally appeared in The Potomac News.

MALHALA, BOSNIA — In a lawless and dangerous land, where most people solve their problems with a gun, he’s one of a small band of lawmen dedicated to bringing justice and order. He wears a pale gold star on his chest.

The land is Bosnia.

The badge Bob Mosier wears is a Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department badge.

He left the sheriff’s department behind to become a member of the United Nations’ International Police Task Force.

On a chilly, gray Friday afternoon, four infantrymen of 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1-26 Infantry walked into a mess. Two dozen angry residents in the Muslim village of Malhala — smack-dab in the middle of the demilitarized Zone Of Separation between the Croat and Muslim federation and the Serbian portion of Bosnia — waved their hands, sobbed and shouted angrily.

The Bosnian Serb police who patrol the area were holding a villager. He hadn’t been seen since he was picked up, and villagers suspected the worst, and not without reason.

Several months ago, the police held an elderly villager’s arms and legs down and beat his genital area with a baseball bat. He went into a coma and later died.

Through the unit’s translator, the villagers explained their fears. Officially, the village has 316 residents. But the U.S. soldiers of checkpoint Sierra-10, who patrol several of the neighboring villages, have counted only 47 residents. The rest are dead or too afraid to come back home.

The villagers angrily denounced the Serbian police. Although officially inside the Serbian sphere of influence under the General Framework Agreement for Peace (the working blueprint springing from the Dayton Peace Accords) the Serbian police didn’t begin patrolling until late last year. Now, the soldiers tried talking the villagers down from their hysteria, just as they had last August, when the first police patrols began.

“We just talked to Bob,” Staff Sgt. Gary Farrington said to the villagers, gesturing to his radio man, Spc. Russell Hargrave who had just broken contact with Mosier. “He’s coming. You know Bob; he’s a good guy.”

The white U.N. Nissan pickup rolled up through the ruined village. It stopped near the knot of villagers and soldiers, and Bob Mosier stepped out.

Mosier, a former captain in the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department, has been a member of the International Police Task Force since October. The Woodbridge High School graduate works with the various Bosnian police forces, acting as a liaison between them, helping with training and monitoring for human rights abuses.

He held his hands up, smiling and shaking hands with all parties present. He had been speaking to the Serbian police, alerted by radio of the situation. Malhala has been a persistent trouble spot and is closely monitored by the U.N.

The man was on his way back, he explained. This led to another round of hand-waving by the villagers. If the Serbian police station was only 20 minutes away, the villager had better be here in 20 minutes, they explained.

Farrington sauntered over to Mosier.

“You know they’re going to be timing this to the second,” the infantryman muttered.

Mosier led the translator off to the side, beckoning the village leaders over, one by one, explaining to them quietly the importance of keeping the situation under control.

Fortunately, a few minutes later the villager did arrive, brought by a Serbian police officer and an Austrian U.N. observer. The prisoner, much to the villagers’ dismay, had dried blood trailing from his ear.

The yelling and shouting began anew. Mosier and the soldiers spent the next half hour talking to the villagers, using words to head off violence.

“If this can happen to him, it can happen to me,” one elderly woman exclaimed. “They are going to kill us all!”

Farrington sighed, pulling a cigarette from his pack.

“Welcome to Bosnia.”

The situation was a bit more complicated than it initially appeared, Mosier explained later. The villager, Mahmet, had a history of run-ins with the Serbian police and had threatened to kill them several weeks ago. When pulled over and asked for his identification earlier in the day, he became belligerent and began to verbally abuse the police once more. They brought him in to determine what sort of threat, if any, he posed. And it wasn’t clear who worked him over or what organization they represented. All that would have to be determined for the human rights report on the incident.

What could have happened in Malhala is not clear. The villagers were forced to give up their weapons under the conditions of the peace plan, although they probably have a small cache of weapons hidden somewhere. But the town’s graveyard is full of defaced tombstones and several of the houses under repair have been destroyed. And, of course, everyone remembers what happened to the old man.

In the midst of armed Bosnian police, American soldiers and likely armed villagers, the only definitively unarmed participant is Mosier.

“Unarmed,” Mosier said earlier. “An unarmed mission, mind you. Unbelievable!”

The International Police Task Force’s neutrality doesn’t make it beloved: Mosier’s station in Zvornik in the Republic of Srpska, the Bosnian Serb portion of Bosnia-Hercegovina, was held hostage for several days in August.

“It’s been quite an adjustment, not being armed. I’ve been armed for, what, 15 years? So it’s been adjustment,” Mosier, one of the 161 Americans in the 1,750-man IPTF, said later, racing down the darkened road toward the electric lights of Zvornik. “I tell you, I’ve used every bit of my police skills.”

Mosier has sacrificed more than just his gun. He had to quit his job as a department captain, receiving a “special deputy” status instead. And he left his wife and three young children behind for a year.

“I had gone through some executive development and it was suggested that I put out some resumes, just to see what I was worth,” he said. “Anyway, I sent out a resume [to the United Nations], just to see what I was worth. … Then a letter came back that I was accepted.”

Mosier quit at the height of his career for a one-year stint overseas. It was his first time away from American soil other than a Bahamas vacation. And he was going to a war-torn country where he didn’t speak the language and would go unarmed.

“I prayed about it,” he said. “When this was offered, I had a peace about it. And what a rewarding experience.”

He gives a lot of credit to his wife, Cindy, herself a Fauquier County deputy.

“I kind of couldn’t believe him. I said ‘you’re not really going are you?’ I said that right up to when he got on the plane. I did not want him to go, to be honest with you,” Cindy said by phone from Fauquier County. “But as his wife, I felt I had to be supportive of him.”

At their Bealeton home, the Mosiers keep a running countdown of the days Bob has left in Bosnia on the kitchen calendar and there are two big yellow ribbons outside.

Cindy Mosier visited her husband at Christmas and will do so again in April, on their 10th anniversary. The December trip, her first outside the U.S., opened her eyes.

“I was so happy that I’m an American. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it. I guess I just took it for granted the way we have it here,” she said. “My heart was just broken.”

Being a law officer herself, she knows and understands the risks involved, and worries about her husband’s safety.

“He kind of doesn’t tell me too much, because he doesn’t want me to worry.”

Mosier’s base of operations in downtown Zvornik seems almost normal, compared to the devastated towns near the demilitarized zone. Smiling young dark-haired couples stroll down the street, arm in arm. The electricity is on and the hotel bars are filled. The gas heat was just restored after being out all winter and the economy is still shaky at best. And the glass wall of the stairwell that leads up to the IPTF office in Zvornik, above the Hotel Drina bar, is laced with bullet holes.

“The phone lines don’t always work,” Mosier said, “You can’t call from the republic to the federation. I finally figured out a way for my wife to call Belgrade and get the call transferred to me.”

He carries pictures of his wife and children in his wallet, pulling them out unbidden.

“I look at them often.”

But the job at hand is an important one, especially when he considers the differences between Bosnia and America.

“I used to think we pay a high price for freedom. I don’t think that anymore,” he said. It’s hard to feel Americans have their rights infringed when there’s one police officer in the United States for every 2,000 citizens, when in Bosnia, the ratio is one police officer for every 75 citizens. “This is a police state. I don’t ever want that to happen.”

And the police have a very different outlook on their jobs than American officers, something Mosier is trying to help soften.

“I guess the most important thing that’s happened over here is the interpersonal relationships and introducing Western democratic styles of police,” he said. Too many police still have a Cold War-era “beat first, ask questions later” mentality. “Once you break the ice of ‘yeah, I’m a monitor, I’m here to watch you,’ they start asking you for advice.”

The republic and federation police forces’ human rights violations seize all the headlines, but Mosier says that’s not the whole story.

“It’s the same thing as in the United States, if one person in uniform does something wrong, all they see is the uniform. … They’re all bad guys. But I’ll tell you, that’s not the case. I’ve worked with some great policemen in the federation and the republic. There’s bad guys on both sides that have to be vetted. And that’s where the IPTF comes in.”

His assignment ends in October, but Mosier believes his tenure in Bosnia has been time well spent.

“I’ve had several dreams in my life — be a policeman, get married, have a family, build a log cabin — and I can honestly say I’ve accomplished them all. What do I do now?” Mosier said, in the small U.N. office. “I had people coming to me and saying ‘you’re crazy, quitting your job, you won’t have anything when you get back,’ but doors open in your life and you have to go through them.”

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