The verification process causes concerns, but veterans and their families should start seeing benefits later this year.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 18/03/13
Former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army and their families should begin receiving government benefits by the end of the year. [AFP]
Kosovo's government is preparing to provide legal status and benefits for former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army and their families, but some veterans have expressed reservations about the process.
More than 59,000 people have applied for benefits in connection with the former army, which fought Serbian troops in 1998 and 1999. More than 52,000 are veterans, nearly 4,500 have claimed invalid status and 2,600 are claiming martyr status for family members who died during the war.
A law adopted in 2012 established a process for providing pension, health, education, public services and employment benefits for war veterans, invalids and families of martyrs. The exact amount of assistance will be determined by a companion law that should be adopted later this year after the government completes a verification process.
A commission led by Kosovo Security Force Minister Agim Ceku has the authority to verify applications and establish the status for each one. Applicants submitted Kosovo Liberation Army identification cards and other documents, which will be reviewed by the commission and former army commanders.
"It's going to be a difficult process, but I hope that within this year veterans will start receiving what they really deserve," Ceku told SETimes, adding that the verification process will take a few months.
Bislim Hodaj is seeking veteran status, but has doubts about the successful outcome of the process. He told SETimes that determining the status of veterans need not be difficult because local and international institutions in Kosovo have records about the number and identity of all former army fighters.
"However, it's a sense of satisfaction for the fact that in past 13 years we haven't had any single assistance, no one took into consideration our contribution," Hodaj said.
Hodaj said he has received little information about benefits veterans might gain based on the law, but he expects assistance in health and public services, and education and employment assistance for the children of army members.
His scepticism is partly based on Kosovo's difficult economic situation, which makes it harder for the government to provide benefits to veterans.
"It's very important to determine the exact number of individuals engaged in the war. It's important to recognise the contribution of those people and their values," Muharrem Xhemaili, the head of veterans' association, and a member of the commission for the status of veterans, told SETimes.
He said that the status of veterans should have been resolved immediately after the war, but progress was slowed by the fact that the country was under UN administration for more than eight years.
"But five years after Kosovo declared independence it should have been done more to respect [Kosovo Liberation Army] values," said Xhemaili.
Enver Fejza, who served in Kosovo Protection Corps, an emergency organisation established by army fighters after the demilitarisation, said the delay is more disappointing for others than it is for him.
"It is disappointing for some other former [army] members that are either old or cannot find jobs," Fejza said.