'Defenders' law shakes Macedonia politics

15/09/2012

VMRO-DPMNE has given parliament a draft law on special rights for members of the country's security forces, but the Albanian coalition partner wants the legislation to cover the NLA as well.

By Klaudia Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 15/09/12

photo

The draft law expands the benefits for the Macedonian Security Forces that participated in the 2001 conflict. [Reuters]

A draft law that would regulate the special and social rights of those who defended the sovereignty of Macedonia during the 2001 conflict was proposed to parliament on Tuesday (September 11th).

The legislation, tabled by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, has prompted its coalition partner, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), to threaten to leave the governing coalition and call early parliamentary election if the proposed law is not withdrawn.

At issue is the DUI's insistence that the legislation provide compensation and special rights for other victims of the conflict in 2001, specifically the combatants of the National Liberation Army (NLA).

The military conflict in Macedonia in 2001 began when the Albanian paramilitary formation NLA attacked the security forces of Macedonia. The conflict ended with the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August the same year.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said that the VMRO-DPMNE will not allow the dignity of the Macedonian people to be trampled on in exchange for a ruling position.

"This law will repay the long-term injustice toward all those who have given the lives for Macedonia in 2001, towards those who gained permanent disabilities and towards those who were on the shield of the peace and sovereignty of our fatherland," Kiro Kirov, the co-ordinator of the defenders' organisation Rampart.

"It is a division along ethnic lines. The time when Albanians were afraid of the Macedonians is past. The public will be witness to a long challenging debate on a law that is inconsistent with the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It is a universal principle and on behalf of the protection of these universal principles we will vote against this draft law," Ermira Mehmeti, DUI spokesperson, told SETimes.

A law for defenders was put into place in January 2002. The new draft-law envisions compensation for disabled war veterans and the families of deceased soldiers, free primary health care for defenders and the families of deceased soldiers and free medical treatment for those who were wounded.

Under the draft law, the state will employ one member of the family of deceased members of the security forces, and all defenders should have an advantage in finding employment. Veterans of the security forces and their families are entitled to receive housing loans that are 50 percent paid by the state.

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"The law on defenders must not have a place for members of the NLA. They have been amnestied by law of the criminal offenses in 2002, and the Albanian minority has obtained wide rights with the Ohrid Framework Agreement. However if, by any circumstances, they obtain place in the law," it would be like rewarding terrorists, Predrag Petrusevski Bingo, president of the defenders association Kumanovo 2001, told SETimes.

According to the Association of Disabled War Veterans, the proposed changes to the law "bear the moral and political victory of the defenders, because they mean that they receive help as recognition for their merit to the state."

The relations of the two coalition partners, VMRO-DPMNE and DUI has been on shaky footing since last month, when Defense Minister Fatmir Besimi and several army officers attended a ceremony honouring members of NLA that were killed during the conflict.

"Fragile interethnic relations as we have, very quickly can fire up to unwanted consequences. I would recommend to the government partners not to play with inter-ethnic relations," Vlado Dimovski, secretary-general of the Centre for Interethnic Tolerance, told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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