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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Computers help Croat ex-soldiers
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Knin, Croatia

Croatian war vets
Some 800 war veterans have attended the training centre
"We all became animals during the war. I saw things I really don't want to talk about now," Ante tells me, looking into the distance, his words slow and thoughtful.

"Like many others, I suffered psychological problems after the war ended.

"I couldn't find peace of mind or concentrate on anything. I wouldn't even speak to my family and locked myself in a room."

Ante Slavic, a former Croatian soldier from the mountain town of Knin, has largely recovered from the post-traumatic stress he suffered. But his recovery has not been down to medicines or psychological counselling.

It is a result of a pioneering project set up and run by war veterans themselves.

Self-help

Knin and the surrounding region saw fierce fighting between Croat and Serb forces during the war in the early 1990s.

The bullet holes have still not been plastered over on the walls in the town. These days high unemployment and a poor economy are people's main concerns.

Ante Slavic
Ante Slavic helped pioneer the project
"We wanted to do something for ourselves," says Boris Kraljic, who was one of the initiators of the war veterans' project.

"We set up this centre and began offering computer courses to former soldiers.

"The courses meet European standards. And then we also included the families as well. It brought some people out of the depression they had sunk into."

Around 800 former soldiers have gone through the centre. Some of the veterans now train other former soldiers.

They have set up their own wireless network and are continually looking to upgrade the technology at their disposal.

"The next stage is to try to find employment for our people. These people now have the skills and knowledge. The real challenge is to now help find them jobs," says Boris.

"This project is hugely important. It's a fantastic way of developing an information society. But also it is dealing in the best possible way with some of the issues that this country has had and the consequences of war," says Miroslav Kovacic, state secretary with the Croatian government.

Corporate aid

Multinational companies have also got involved.

Knin panorama
Knin was the scene of fierce fighting in 1995

IBM's general manager for Croatia, Ivan Vidakovic, says he was impressed by the determination of those who ran the course.

"They took their destiny in their hands. Some of them are now starting their own businesses and we want to help by providing skills and support."

The centre has now become a focal point for the local community. One of the rooms is now set aside to teach children foreign languages.

"We would like to offer our experiences and ideas to other war veterans organisations around the world," says Mladen Milosevic, president of the war veterans' association.

"We think we have a lot to offer."

Ante has made such a recovery that he is now one of the main organisers at the centre.

"I feel a lot better in myself," says Ante with a smile. "Look what we've achieved in the past three years. We may soon set up our own internet radio and TV stations. Who knows what the future holds?"


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Croatia
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Croat suspect to be film 'hero'
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Europe diary: Croatian unease
26 Jan 06 |  Europe
Croat suspect denies war crimes
12 Dec 05 |  Europe
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