|Montenegrin troops. Photo: mod.gov.me.|
Experienced officers who were trained and started a career with the former Yugoslav People’s Army, the JNA, could now be retired in the wake of Montenegro becoming a NATO member in June.
Under the new Army Act, all professional military officers older than 50 who have spent 20 years in active military service could be retired if this is proposed by the chief of the General Staff, with the consent of the defence minister.
The Defence Ministry told BIRN that an assessment of the situation in the armed forces had shown that its age profile was unfavourable, so changes need to be made.
“This would enable the employment of young officers and the creation of an optimum age structure for the personnel,” the ministry said.
All senior officers and non-commissioned officers from the tiny military force of around 2,000 people who are prematurely retired will have pensions a third higher than foreseen in the law.
The ministry said that in the next three years these increased pensions will cost taxpayers around 110,000 euros.
The purge of officers who served in the JNA, widely considered in Montenegro as the pro-Serbian force responsible for the wars of the 1990s, comes amid opposition from the Army Union, which claims it represents discrimination against and illegal firing of troops who are considered to be “politically improper”.
Weekly union protests were launched in September when 22 professional soldiers were fired while at the same time, the Defence Ministry hired dozens of new soldiers.
The head of the Army Union, Nenad Cobeljic, urged the state prosecution and the Montenegrin Ombudsman to determine “the motives, reasons and the truth” behind the soldiers’ sackings.
The ministry denied allegations that the process was illegal after several local media reported that all the sacked soldiers were ethnic Serbs.
Cobeljic told a press conference on October 5 that the Ombudsman should investigate whether this was “a case of nationality-based discrimination”.
Over the past four years, the Army Union has also protested on several occasions about poor working conditions and low wages.
The union has further demanded better healthcare and a “clearly defined system of promotions” but the country’s defence authorities have said on several occasions that Montenegro has armed forces that are “structured, trained and equipped” to the standards of NATO countries’ militaries.