Serbia-Montenegro Streamlines its Armed Forces

Serbia-Montenegro will downsize its military by 9,300 people this year as part of its efforts to adjust to NATO standards, the defence ministry’s office of public relations said Sunday (29 May).

A total of 1,400 professional soldiers and 5,300 civilians will be released in Serbia, while in Montenegro the number of professional soldiers and civilians will be reduced by 1,800 and 800, respectively.

The downsizing will be gradual, the ministry said, adding that the first stage would include the early retirement of a number of people, followed by the privatisation of a number of compounds. At the beginning of April, 4,200 civilians and 1,300 officers were dismissed in Serbia as part of a sweeping army reform. By 2010, the size of the Serbia-Montenegro Army will be slashed from 77,900 to 39,722.

According to Serbia-Montenegro Defence Minister Prvoslav Davinic, the downsizing is in line with an agreement between the Serbian government and the IMF — which set the reduction of army personnel as a condition for further support of reforms.

Davinic said the Serbian Finance Ministry cut funding for 6,500 people from the army budget in January. “Those who have not been dismissed have been receiving salaries from the budget, putting an additional strain on it,” Davinic said.

The reform is a painful one, since Serbia is plagued by a high unemployment rate. Official data suggests that out of 8 million people in Serbia, 800,000 are not working. The government and the army have no specific social programme for those dismissed, and no new jobs have been found for them.

Upon leaving the army, the dismissed receive a year’s salary — between 4,000 and 6,500 euros. Those who applied for voluntary redundancy get an additional 20 per cent.

A representative for the dismissed civilian employees, Vladimir Stanimirovic, says the state has failed to protect his clients, because they have no one to appeal to except the defence ministry, which dismissed them in the first place. Stanimirovic said he will address international institutions and courts in hopes that “decisions on dismissals will be overturned”.

Of all the army employees dismissed so far, only 270 have appealed to the military commission; five have been brought back to work.

In addition to military downsizing, this year is also expected to see restructuring at major state-owned companies — a process that will also result in dismissals. As a result, social pressure on the government will likely increase.

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