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Bosnian Veterans Donate Across Ethnic, Historical Divide

A policeman in Sarajevo looks on as retired Bosnian joint-army soldiers march in December for pension benefits.
SARAJEVO -- Retired soldiers from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-Croat federation are donating funds to colleagues deprived of their pensions in the Serb-dominated part of the country in a gesture that flies in the face of bitter ethnic differences, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Some of the soldiers fought against each other in the 1992-95 Bosnian War, in which around 100,000 people died.

"We cannot allow them to end up on the street without the basic means to live," Senad Hubijer, an ethnic Muslim who is the head of the Muslim-Croat Federation's Veterans Association, told RFE/RL. "Regardless of the fact that we were on opposite sides, we came up with this idea and we will help them in the following period as much as we can."

All of those involved served in Bosnia's joint army after it brought three former ethnic-based factions into a single armed force in 2004 -- one of the rare and often-cited examples of successful interethnic cooperation in Bosnia.

The discrepancy arose after retired soldiers persuaded authorities in the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia to provide them with an emergency three-month, 300-marka pension but officials in the Serb-dominated part of the country did not follow suit.

Under nationalist President Milorad Dodik, the Republika Srpska government has opposed and undermined all state-level cooperation and integration.

But about 1,200 Muslim and Croat soldiers have pledged to contribute 10 Bosnian markas ($6.70) each so that around 300 of their Serb brothers-in-arms can be given symbolic monthly aid of 40 markas each.

After mandatory retirement at the age of 35, all of the joint-army veterans were left without pensions because of an unresolved legal and budgetary situation that began in 2010 between Bosnia's central government -- which was supposed to allocate the funds -- and its two autonomous regions, whose pension funds refused to issue retirement checks without a guarantee from the central government that they would be refunded.

Bosnian Serb Darko Topic, who spent four years fighting in the Bosnian Serb army, said he and his family cannot live off of empty promises made by the government.

"First of all, we need to leave behind what happened in the past, because back then we were tricked by the politicians in that crazy period of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia," Topic said. "We were used, we were pawns which were manipulated as [the politicians] saw fit. That time is over, the wounds are healing and we have to look forward."

Some of the soldiers also served together in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside coalition forces.