Belgrade, 24 March (AKI) - Serbia marked the 10th anniversary of NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia on Tuesday by ringing church bells, laying wreaths, and a minute's silence in every school.
People also gathered at sites where people were killed during NATO's 11-week bombing campaign in 1999 aimed at driving Serbian forces out of Kosovo, amid ethnic fighting and gross human rights abuses during a two-year war with guerrillas.
The Serbian cabinet also began its meeting with a minute's silence as a mark of respect, while some officials laid wreaths to honour victims of the bombings.
Serbian prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic said 2,500 civilians, including 89 children, and 1,002 soldiers were killed in the NATO bombing campaign.
Over 12,000 people were wounded in the attacks and Serbia's infrastructure and economy suffered damage worth up to 40 billion dollars, he said.
"The bombing has caused long term adverse consequences for Serbia and the region," Cvetkovic said.
"Because of the future of our children we must not allow that to be repeated ever again."
Damaged buildings can still be seen in the capital, Belgrade, and in Pristina, now capital of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in February last year.
The international community has accused Serbian forces under the command of former strongman president Slobodan Milosevic of using excess force in battling ethnic Albanian insurgents. Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999 and it was put under United Nations control.
Milosevic was later accused of war crimes and died in a jail cell of the Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2006, while Kosovo declared independence in February 2008.
Over 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since the province was put under UN control and up to 3,000 have been killed or listed as missing, according to the Red Cross.
Meanwhile, former Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema said he had no regrets about Italy's involvement in the war, however, he described NATO's bombing of Belgrade as "unnecessary".
"I do not have any regrets. However, I continue to think that it was unnecessary to bomb Belgrade," said D'Alema in an interview with Italian daily Il Riformista.
"I was upset by the war and I felt responsible for what was happening, the civilians who were dying...this was my worry," he said.
D'Alema also said the greatest merit of NATO's intervention is that it put an end to the Balkan wars, which in turn "began a process which makes Serbia today a democratic country."
SerbBlog: Meanwhile Mauro Del Vecchio, former General of Italian Army who led the unit of 7,000 soldiers that entered Kosovo in June of 1999 after end of NATO air strikes on Serbia told Italian ‘Panorama’ weekly that during the first three weeks of the mandate ‘reports on the found bodies of killed Serbs and Romas arrived on his table each morning’, but that was a taboo topic they were not allowed to speak about with journalists. Original article (PDF File) in Italian here.
D'Alema is wrong. The NATO Bombing didn't turn Serbia into a democratic country. Serbia became a democratic country, in spite of the NATO Bombing!