The convoy of trucks evacuating 400 Serbs from their besieged headquarters in central Sarajevo in May had just begun to move when the trouble began. Bosnian militiamen attacked the middle of the column, pulling officers from trucks and executing them. Canada’s senior peacekeeper, Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, was near the front of the line with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and his military commander, who had offered the Serbs safe passage, but the Bosnian leaders were unable to control their own troops.
MACLEAN S HONOR ROLL 1992
A Warrior For Peace
The convoy of trucks evacuating 400 Serbs from their besieged headquarters in central Sarajevo in May had just begun to move when the trouble began. Bosnian militiamen attacked the middle of the column, pulling officers from trucks and executing them. Canada’s senior peacekeeper, Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, was near the front of the line with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and his military commander, who had offered the Serbs safe passage, but the Bosnian leaders were unable to control their own troops. MacKenzie and an aide raced down the narrow, twisting street, past a surreal scene of downed power poles, sparking wires and bodies, to the centre of the attack. There, MacKenzie grabbed a young Bosnian with two grenades in his teeth, just as the soldier was about to throw the explosives into a truck full of Serbs. With the arrival of the peacekeepers, the Bosnians “stopped doing the more dastardly acts, like killing people,” MacKenzie says. But he added: “It was the first event in nine peacekeeping tours when things were totally and absolutely out of control; you weren’t too sure whether you and your people were going to get out of there.”
It is a scene far removed from the quiet of the Downsview military base north of Toronto, where MacKenzie, 52, now serves as commander of land forces in Ontario. A chill November rain soaks the tidy lawns in front of his headquarters as MacKenzie slips outside to indulge a habit. Chatting affably as he lights up a cigarette, his six-foot, one-inch, 200-lb. frame seems slighter without the flak jacket and battle dress that he wore on duty in Sarajevo. But there is no mistaking an aura of leadership. A native of Princeport, N.S., recognized for his personal bravery, the loyalty that he commands from his troops and his ability to negotiate disputes, MacKenzie was appointed chief of staff to the UN forces in Yugoslavia in late February. He arrived in Sarajevo on March 8, a month before fierce ethnic fighting between Croats, Moslems and Serbs exploded throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. The UN headquarters stationed in Sarajevo moved to the Serbian capital, Belgrade. But Mackenzie volunteered to return with 1,600 troops, including
800 Canadians. He negotiated control of Sarajevo’s airport, and, throughout July, delivered up to 250 tons of airlifted food and medicine each day into a city where the fighting never stopped.
A veteran of eight previous peacekeeping missions, MacKenzie says that Bosnia was by far his most dangerous assignment. For the first time since the United Nations began sending military observers to conflict zones in 1948 (to Palestine), the peacekeepers had no peace to keep. His troops came under artillery fire and were accused of smuggling arms. And after the attack on their convoy, Serbs briefly detained MacKenzie himself, but released him after about two hours. Later, when he aroused the fury of outgunned Croat and Moslem forces for speaking out against foreign military intervention, posters appeared around Sarajevo claiming that MacKenzie was married to a Serb. “I call her McKinnovich,” he
says now, referring to his 45-year-old Scots-Canadian wife, Dora (née McKinnon).
MacKenzie left Sarajevo on Aug. 2. Since taking over command of Ontario’s land forces, he has been making about 15 speeches and appearances a week, and has spent time with his daughter, Kimm, 25. He has also pursued his passion for Formula Ford cars, and took part in four races in the months following his return from Sarajevo. Although he has been mentioned by colleagues as a possible candidate for commander of the army, MacKenzie insists that he will retire after serving two years in his present post.
Still, he says, he would not refuse another peacekeeping assignment. “People are horrified when I say Bosnia was probably the W-h best months of my life,” says MacKenzie. “But to go into a situation where you can use professional military combat skills to try and stop other people from fighting is, we think, a pretty honorable undertaking.” For Canadians, soldiers and civilians alike, peacekeeping has also helped to shape a national identity. As Lewis MacKenzie says, “We’ve got a reputation for this business.”
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