News 17 Jan 14

Kosovo War Veterans Protest Over State ‘Neglect’

Around 50 former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters staged an angry rally in front of the government building in Pristina demanding more rights for those who fought in the 1990s conflict.

Edona Peci
War veterans protest in Pristina/ Photo: Edona Peci  

The protestors rallied on Friday demanding legal changes that will give veterans more legal rights and state benefits, holding posters with slogans like “Enough silence!”, “Stop fraud” and “Why did 45 war veterans commit suicide?”

Shouting “KLA, KLA”, they tried to break down doors to enter the building in a bid to meet officials they said had ignored them, but were prevented by police who secured the entrance from inside.

“War veterans live in terrible conditions with problems in the health sector, education and with a high unemployment,” said Xhevdet Qeriqi, head of the Council for the Protection of the Rights of KLA Fighters, which organised the rally.

The attempt to force entry to the government building “was not planned, but the psychological condition of veterans is not good”, Qeriqi said.

“This is just a sign of how future protests will look like,” he added.

According to the Council for the Protection of the Rights of the KLA Fighters, hundreds of veterans live in poverty without any financial or social support, while more than 40 ex-fighters have committed suicide because of poor living conditions.

One of the protesters, Jakup Rexhepi, an unemployed war veteran who claims he was in the KLA from 1997 until the end of conflict in 1999, said that he had never received any financial support from the government.

“After the war, I sold my blood so I could provide for my wife and six children. Sometimes friends and neighbours help me with flour, sugar and oil,” he said.

Dissatisfied veterans have staged protests several times in recent years. In April 2009, Qeriqi and more than 50 others put up tents in front of the government building and held a hunger strike which lasted for several weeks.

In May 2011, they staged a 61-day protest in tents which ended with a promise by the government to change the legislation. However, a new law on war veterans is still not in place.

Fourteen years after the end of the war in Kosovo, it remains unclear how many people fought for the KLA during the 1998-99 conflict.

In November 2012, the Kosovo government launched a project to verify exactly who was in the KLA. Once the process of verification is complete, a new law is expected to be drafted.

On Thursday, the government commission on the status verification of KLA veterans, members and internees said it had verified some 1,691 applications from the KLA ‘Shala zone’ in northern Kosovo which included Mitrovica, Podujevo/Podujeva and Vushtrri/Vucitrn, but only 684 were approved.

“A hundred applications were proven to be KLA invalids, 52 were proved to be war martyrs, 239 people were proved to have taken part in different ways in the war, while 135 applications will have to be verified in other ex-KLA units,” the commission said.

But Qeriqi questioned the aims of the commission.

“This commission has correct figures on ex-KLA fighters, but it was established only to prolong the issue further,” he said.

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