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Disabled Veterans Block Streets to Demand Pensions

July 31, 1996

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ About 1,000 disabled veterans and families of soldiers killed in the Bosnian war blocked traffic Wednesday until the government agreed to pay monthly benefits as promised.

The protests in Tuzla are just one of the postwar challenges facing Bosnia’s government, which is under pressure to extradite suspected war criminals, resettle refugees and set the stage for free elections this fall.

Disability benefits and survivors’ pensions hadn’t been paid since last December. When thousands of angry veterans converged on the capital last week, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said the country couldn’t afford to pay all the benefits but would pay two months by Wednesday.

``That didn’t happen,″ said Sejo Arifovic, secretary of the Association of Disabled Veterans in Tuzla, as he stood with protesters in an intersection.

The government announced late in the day that the money _ averaging about 40 German marks, or $26 each _ had arrived, and protesters dispersed to municipal offices to collect their cash. But many were still angry.

``All this is very miserable,″ said Mirsad Jahic, a 29-year-old veteran who lost a leg in the war. ``I wait all day to get this 40 German marks, with which I can buy nearly nothing. We simply have to resume our struggle ... for our rights in this country.″

The average monthly pension for a soldier considered to be 70 percent disabled is about $13. Families of soldiers killed get about the same amount.

Hasira Turkovic, 66, lost her three sons early in the war and is now a refugee in Tuzla. She said she only received 30 marks or about $20 for three months last year.

``Thirty marks for three sons,″ she cried.

Nedzad Kuralovic, 38, who was wounded by shrapnel, said many disabled veterans clean streets or ask for charity to survive. If the government doesn’t help, ``We will stand here the whole year,″ he vowed.

About 1,500 disabled veterans and about the same number of families of killed soldiers live in Tuzla, a northeastern city whose prewar population of 119,000 has swollen to include about 60,000 refugees.

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