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Yugoslav Army Compensation Battle

Families demanding compensation from the Yugoslav Army for relatives killed while serving in Kosovo claim they are being short-changed.
By Miroslav Filipovic

A former judge in Yugoslavia's highest military court has condemned the army over its handling of financial compensation for families of soldiers killed in the Kosovo conflict.

Jovan Buturovic has dismissed as paltry the army's offer of the equivalent of 10,000 German Marks ($5,050) to bereaved families and accused it of obstructing damages claims.

"One has to pay 20,000 German Marks to kill a deer on a private estate," said the former judge of the Supreme Military Court. "Parents are rightfully asking whether their sons are worth no more than half a deer."

Families of fallen soldiers have begun to sue the army following the recent expiry of a moratorium on compensation introduced last April when the NATO bombardment was at its height.

Some plaintiffs are demanding compensation equivalent to up to two million German Marks.

Fearful, it seems, of being deluged with lawsuits from the relatives of over 500 soldiers killed in the Kosovo war, the army has introduced measures to ease the pressure on its courts.

Relatives can now only seek damages if they have previously applied directly to the army for compensation. But plaintiffs say this amounts to delaying tactics as the deadline for the military's response to an approach for compensation is three months.

In another apparent attempt at obstructing claims, the army has said compensation cases can only be tried by courts in towns where soldiers were serving at the time of their deaths.

Since the majority of soldiers were deployed in Kosovo, now jointly administered by United Nations and mainly Albanian leaders, families of dead troops have little idea which judicial authorities to approach.

"My son died while serving in Kosovo in the 7238 Djakovica unit," said Radovan Josovic. "I should approach the court in Djakovica, but I was told that it will be relocated in Serbia. When and where I don't know."

Even when the army agrees to pay compensation families say they are being short-changed.

There are inevitably long delays between confirmation of a settlement and its payment. Because of the country's hyperinflation, this means that by the time the claimant receives compensation its value has depreciated considerably.

Dusan Vukovic said the military authorities ordered him last April to collect receipts for his son's funeral. The sum came to 40,000 Yugoslav dinars, equivalent to 4,000 German Marks at the time. Now they are worth half as much. Once the amount is paid to him, no doubt its value will be much smaller still.

There has been no official reaction from the army on the compensation issue, but a major in the military's legal service, who asked not to be named, told IWPR the state cannot afford to pay the bereaved relatives.

"If we agreed to pay only a tenth of what the parents are asking from us, that would mean over 150 million German Marks," he said. "The state simply does not have that money - and, even if it had, it would be hard to imagine it would agree to pay it to the families."

Miroslav Filipovic is an independent journalist in Kraljevo.

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