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Bosniak, Croat War Veterans Continue Protests In Bosnia

Police face off with war veterans near the city of Doboj in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A standoff continued between police in Bosnia-Herzegovina and hundreds of veterans of the country's 1992-95 war who are protesting for more rights, including improved social benefits.

At least two people were injured and several briefly detained on March 3 when local and federal police near the northern city of Tuzla dismantled a blockade at a key road junction.

Special forces in full combat gear later pushed back protesters along Bosnia’s main north-to-south road.

The demobilized fighters from the former Bosnian Army and Croatian Defense Council had blocked roads in Tuzla, Zenica, and Doboj, as well as the main road from Sarajevo to Konjic.

Bosniak and Bosnian Croat war veterans have been blocking the main junctions throughout Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation, including near the capital, Sarajevo, seeking benefits for unemployed former soldiers and a unified register of all veterans.

The protesting veterans called on lawmakers to respond to their demands for 326 Bosnian marks ($203) a month in benefits for unemployed veterans and for every former soldier to get at least two Bosnian marks ($1.20) for each month they served during wartime.

There are no accurate records of how many former soldiers are eligible for benefits, after many people falsely declared themselves to be veterans, and protesters want the unified register to purge all fake names.

Since the end of the war, Bosnia has consisted of two separate entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. Each has its own government and the two are linked by weak central institutions.

The protesters also want the government to cut funding for about 1,600 veterans associations, which they say are not handing out benefits in an equitable fashion. They say they want the government to make payments directly to individual veterans.

The prime minister of the Muslim-Croat Federation, Fadil Novalic, told a news conference earlier in the week that the federation cannot afford the additional benefits that the veterans seek.

Novalic also saidthe government was ready to negotiate, warning the protesters that creating chaos would not lead to a solution.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, Reuters, AP, and BalkanInsight