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Bosnia govt bows to veterans' pensions protest

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 30 Mar 2012 17:18 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Serb, Croat and Muslim veterans united in protest

* Cabinet agrees to include pensions in 2012 budget

* But says will revise pensions down in future

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO, March 30 (Reuters) - Bosnia's government bowed to 10 days of protests by war veterans from across the country's ethnic divide on Friday, agreeing to pay pensions promised more than a year ago.

The pension controversy united more than a thousand tired, unwashed and angry Serb, Croat and Muslim veterans of the 1992-95 war in protest outside the central government building in downtown Sarajevo.

Under a sweetener law adopted just before a general election in October 2010, Bosnia retired some 1,750 soldiers as part of an effort to rejuvenate its unified armed forces and promised them pensions.

The election was followed by 16 months of political paralysis as rival ethnic leaders argued over how to form a government. A coalition took power in February, but the pension payments never came and were dropped from the draft 2012 budget.

Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda said the government would amend the draft to include the veterans' outstanding payments - backpayments that amount to 30 million marka (${esc.dollar}20 million) - and said cuts would have to made elsewhere.

The government has to keep spending down as it eyes talks with the International Monetary Fund on a new standby loan arrangement.

"The Council of Ministers (cabinet) is obliged to include in the 2012 budget the funds intended for the payment of pensions to retired army soldiers in accordance with the law by March 31, 2012," Bevanda told a news conference.

But he said the level of payments would be unsustainable in the long term and that the government would propose overturning the law and reducing the pensions.

The saga has delayed the adoption of the budget by parliament. Bevanda said the government had agreed on temporary financing to cover central government spending in the second quarter of 226.3 million marka.

As the government sat, veterans shouted "thieves" and whistled from the street outside.

"We still don't have a concrete solution," said Senad Hubjer, a representative of veterans from the Muslim-Croat half of Bosnia.

"This only means prolonged agony," he added, saying they would have to wait another month before the budget is passed and they start receiving payments.

He said some 300 veterans would continue the street protest until the budget is adopted. (Editing by Matt Robinson and Robin Pomeroy)

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