Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ninth Anniversary of NATO attack on Serbia

BELGRADE -- Today marks the ninth anniversary of the start of the 1999 NATO attacks on Serbia.

May 7, 1999, Niš (Tanjug, archive)
May 7, 1999, Niš (Tanjug, archive)
The bombing campaign, officially against then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), was conducted by 19 armies of the Alliance's member states.

The sustained attacks lasted for 11 weeks, or 78 days, killing between 1,200 and 2,500 people, according to different estimates.

Official data shows that 1,002 members of then Yugoslav Army and Serbian MUP were killed, along with around 2,500 civilians, including 89 children. 10,000 people were wounded.

Serbia's infrastructure, commercial buildings, schools, healthcare institutions, media outlets and monuments of culture sustained heavy damage during the war.

The targets included the state television, RTS, when on April 23, 1999, 16 employees were killed in an airstrike.

The attacks began on March 24, 1999, a little after 20:00 CET, after then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana gave the order to start the bombing.

The government in Belgrade declared the state of war the same night.

The bombing campaign, that the SRJ authorities but also numerous legal experts said was aggression on a sovereign country, started after failed talks in Paris between ethnic Kosovo Albanians and Belgrade authorities.

April 4, 1999, Novi Sad (Tanjug, archive)
April 4, 1999, Novi Sad (Tanjug, archive)

Estimates differ as to the material damage done to Serbia. The government of that time asked for compensation of damages that it said ran into about USD 100bn. But G17 Plus economists believe the number is at USD 30bn.

NATO's war against Serbia ended on June 10, when the United Nations adopted the still valid Resolution 1244.

NATO used aircraft carriers, four air force bases in Italy, and also bases in Western Europe and the United States to carry out the attacks.

Germany, France, the U.S. and Italy participated with most soldiers.

UNHCR data shows that after the arrival of the NATO ground forces in the province, some 230,000 Serbs and Romas fled to central Serbia, escaping ethnic violence against them perpetrated by Kosovo's Albanians.

Another wave of violence and ethnic cleansing took place on March 17-19, 2004, when 4,000 Serbs were also exiled from their homes.

At the end of the war in 1999, as the Serbs were driven out, some 800,000 Albanians, who left the province after the start of the bombing to escape the war, returned to their homes.

Numerous incidents that followed against Serbs and other non-Albanians resulted in the kidnapping and murder of some 1,500 people. Albanian sources put this number at 500.

UNHCR data presented by the government in Priština also said that 16,500 of those driven out have since returned, 45 percent of them Serbs.

Victims' families, associations, politicians mark the day

Samardžić, Koštunica arrive at St. Marko's church (FoNet)
Samardžić, Koštunica arrive at St. Marko's church (FoNet)

Leading Belgrade City Hall officials, representatives of political parties and veteran associations Monday commemorated nine years since the beginning of the NATO campaign of air strikes on the country, by laying wreaths at monuments and paying tribute to the victims.

President Boris Tadić and Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac also honored the victims at different memorials in the capital.

Acting Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Radmila Hristanovi, laid a wreath at the grave of Milica Rakić, a three-year-old killed in her home by a piece of shrapnel from a bomb dropped on Belgrade's northern suburb of Batajnica.

Belgrade Assembly Deputy President Milorad Perović was at a monument dedicated to seven Guard Brigade members and three patients killed by a bomb that hit the Dr. Dragiša Mišović Clinical and Hospital Center of Belgrade.

Representatives of the Association of 1990s War Veterans, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), and the Belgrade Municipality of Rakovica, laid wreaths at a monument on Straževica Hill, southern Belgrade.

Hrustanović, and Šutanovac, were also honoring the Air Defense soldiers killed in the defense of Belgrade.

Acting Mayor of Belgrade Zoran Alimpić laid a wreath at the monument to the Serbian Radio Television, RTS, employees killed at their place of work during the NATO campaign.

"This is yet another anniversary of the bombardment of Serbia, and in Belgrade we are marking that day by placing wreaths at places where our fellow Belgraders were killed," Alimpić said on that occasion, adding that everyone should "do everything so that such things are not repeated ever again."

A service for all the victims of the NATO air campaign was held at St. Marko's Church in central Belgrade, attended by Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica.

Belgrade was attacked on the very first day of the NATO bombing, on March 24, 1999. Bombs were dropped on the suburb of Jakovo and on the airfield in Batajnica.

During the 78 days of this NATO campaign of air strikes, the capital suffered with almost all RTS transmitters destroyed, as was the TV tower on Mt. Avala, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the building of the Yugoslav Army General Staff, and, two hours after midnight on April 23, bombs hit the RTS building in central Belgrade, killing 16 employees and inflicting grave injuries on four others.

Commemorations are ongoing in other cities and towns throughout the country.

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