HAVING lived in the peaceful suburbs of Limerick for most of his life, it could be said that Colm Doyle has had something of a dual existence.
A fun-loving and dedicated family man, he was also a witness for the prosecution of the most notorious war criminals in modern times.
On Thursday, July 12, he relived some of that experience when he launched his long-awaited book, ‘Witness to War Crimes – The Memoirs of an Irish Peacekeeper in Bosnia’.
“It’s a true reflection of what I witnessed and what I saw in Yugoslavia. I tried not to glamorise or exaggerate what went on out there. It was a very brutal war. When you realise that 100,000 people died in that conflict and it was held in the heart of Europe.” he told the Limerick Post.
“It was an experience which was very difficult at times, but when you go into a situation like this you try and do the best you can. You realise you are representing your country, and your defence forces, so we always try and do the best we can to keep the reputation of our foreign service intact,” he said.
Following the break-up of Yugoslavia into Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian war is now remembered as an exceptionally brutal conflict with Catholics, Russian-Orthodox and Muslims committing atrocities in varying forms while fighting for dominance in their regions.
Lord (Peter) Carrington, who had been appointed by the European Commission to chair a peace conference and mediate between the warring parties, chose Colm Doyle, then a Colonel in the Irish Army, as his special envoy.
His selection was prompted by his record in mediation, negotiation and impartiality as well as his experience and expertise on peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Cyprus. There was also his experience in the early 90s, when he was in charge of the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) to the former Yugoslavia.
He had many close calls on this mission.
“Its difficult when somebody points a weapon at you, you get pretty scared and you get pretty careful. I suppose it’s something as a soldier you always wonder about, if your life is in danger then you have to be very careful, there is only so much you can do so you don’t take chances.
“This was at a crucial time during a hostage negotiation, but I managed to persuade the person holding the weapon to cool down a little bit, and after a while, he eased off the pressure, and I was probably lucky enough that day.
“Of course, it was a very difficult time, and at times was extremely dangerous. I had a few harrowing incidents but I think I was probably very lucky. The good Lord was looking after me. I got out of it okay”.
Since returning from Bosnia, many people including friends and family said he should write about his experiences as they were an important part of world history. But it wasn’t until he took a memoir writing course in Limerick, and received encouraging feedback from the class, that he finally put pen to paper.
Over a two year period, he wrote the book using his own detailed diaries, notes, reports, files, videos and ceasefire agreements.
The launch took place on Thursday, July 12 at the University of Limerick.
Guest Speaker on the evening was Brigadier General Patrick Flynn, Officer Commanding the First Southern Brigade, Collins Barracks Cork and the compere was the author’s daughter, Sheena Doyle.