- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

KOCINOVAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina — They were bitter enemies on opposite sides of the front line during the horrors of the Bosnian War.

Now, one side is bailing out the other in an act of once-unimaginable generosity.

In 2010, soldiers older than 35 were pensioned off as Bosnia tried to rejuvenate its army. But the checks never came - and hundreds fell into poverty.

Slavko Rasevic, a Serb veteran, was one of them. Things got so bad that he was forced to siphon electricity from a neighbor’s home because he couldn’t pay the bills. He couldn’t even afford the bus fare to get his three children to school.

Then, just as he was about to tell his 17-year-old daughter she would have to drop out of school, he got a bit of unexpected news.

Bosniak and Croat soldiers who had begun receiving a special handout were banding together to create a lifeline for their less-fortunate Serbian former foes - contributing $6.50 each to a Serb veterans fund.

This month, Mr. Rasevic was singled out by his fellow Serbian veterans as one who should be among the first to benefit.

Instead of spreading the first collection of about $6,500 thinly over hundreds, the Serbs decided that the most desperate would get substantial chunks of money.

Mr. Rasevic’s family and another one will get more than $650, while 55 other struggling Serb veterans will get about $75 each.

“High praise to those people over there,” he said, referring to his former foes.

It’s the latest example of former enemies edging closer together in a country still scarred by the legacy of Europe’s worst bloodshed since World War II.

Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs have banded together in railway strikes and now serve together in the army. But this is the first time people from one side have reached into their pockets to help another.

Mr. Rasevic joined the Bosnian Serb army 20 years ago to fight his Bosniak and Croat enemies in a war that killed 100,000 people and turned almost 2 million - including himself - into refugees.

The violence ended with a peace agreement in 1995 that carved the once-multiethnic nation into two ethnic mini-states - a Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation.

A decade later, the three wartime ethnic armies melded into one.

As a professional soldier, Mr. Rasevic found himself sharing army barracks with his former enemies. That was a major move toward reconciliation for a country that still struggles with ethnic mistrust and is held together by an international administrator.

In 2010, parliament forced soldiers older than 35 to retire but failed to allocate pension funds in that year’s budget.

Then the six parties that won national elections were unable to form a government because of disputes over which ethnic group would run which ministry - and the country has been rudderless ever since.

With no government, there is no budget - and no pensions for the retired veterans.

Pressed by veteran protests, the government of the Bosniak-Croat region agreed to pay some $210 per month from its own budget to retired soldiers living in its territory for as long as it takes to pass the state budget.

However, the Bosnian Serb region refused to do the same for veterans living there.

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