(BBC) A ceremony in Bosnia-Hercegovina has marked the start of the European Union’s largest-ever peacekeeping mission as it takes over from Nato.
About 7,000 Eufor troops will be deployed across the country to maintain peace and stability, nine years after the Bosnian war ended.
Nato will keep a small base to deal with issues including military reform and tracking down war criminals.
In a ceremony on Thursday the Nato flag was replaced by one representing Eufor.
More than 30 countries make up the new EU force.
Some non-EU countries, including Canada and Turkey, will also take part.
At the handover ceremony at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said this was a watershed in Bosnia-Hercegovina’s development and proof of the co-operation between Nato and the EU.
“The progress Bosnia-Hercegovina has made was unimaginable in the early 1990s,” he said.
“People in this country need nobody to tell them how desperate it was back then.”
He said people no longer lived in fear, state institutions had been established and there was respect for human rights.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, added that Bosnia was looking to the future in Europe, with its values of progress and prosperity.
The aim is for a seamless transition from the Nato mission – 80% of Eufor’s troops will simply change their Nato badges for Eufor badges.
The force commander, British Major-Gen David Leakey, says his number one priority is to maintain the safe and secure environment established by Nato.
“Bosnia is still recovering from a very bloody war. The ethnic tensions which started that war, in a way, are still here,” he said.
“Eufor is here to do the peacekeeping job and help Bosnia, in a different sense, remain stable and progress and meet those standards of stability and security so that it can join the European family.”
Posters around Sarajevo announcing the change promote the vision of moving from “stabilisation to integration”.
The Chairman of the Bosnia-Hercegovina Presidency, Borislav Paravac, said: “This undoubtedly confirms another big step for Bosnia-Hercegovina in building a lasting peace on its path to European integration.”
Whilst the EU force will carry out general peacekeeping duties, the new Nato headquarters in Sarajevo will look after defence reform and counter-terrorism.
Both organisations will be involved in the apprehension of war criminals, believing that combined assets will make it easier to capture those still on the run, including the former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
“People like Karadzic and Mladic should long have been in The Hague awaiting their trial. They’re indicted for the most serious crimes humanity knows,” said the Nato secretary general.
The former Nato Secretary General, Lord Robertson, told the BBC it was also an important moment in the evolution of the EU’s defence and security policy, although he said the EU needed more heavy planes and troops if it were to fulfil its peacekeeping ambitions.