Serbia commemorates 15th anniversary of NATO bombing

78 days of terror and immense destruction left 1,200-2,500 dead

24 March, 16:53

    This 12 April 1999 image taken from Serbian  television shows reportedly the Pancevo oil refinery north of Belgrade, after being hit by NATO  bombs This 12 April 1999 image taken from Serbian television shows reportedly the Pancevo oil refinery north of Belgrade, after being hit by NATO bombs

    (ANSAmed) - BELGRADE, MARCH 24 - Serbia on Monday commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of NATO's bombing of its territory to force the country's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to end repression of Albanians and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. NATO went ahead with the bombing without authorization from the UN. Commemorative ceremonies were scheduled throughout the country with a focus on locations hit the worst by the attacks. The NATO air strikes were ordered by secretary general of the organization at the time, Javier Solana, and commenced on the evening of March 24, 1999, after diplomatic attempts failed to persuade Milosevic. For 78 days military and civilian objectives were hit in Serbia and Kosovo, with a resulting death toll of between 1,200 and 2,500 - depending on the source - and some 12,500 injured. The NATO bomber jets took off from Italian air bases and naval units stationed in the Adriatic Sea and destroyed barracks, military facilities, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, cultural centers, and homes, leaving Serbians prey to terror and anxiety for eleven weeks. Sixteen journalists and technicians were killed in the bombing of the Belgrade offices of the Serbian public radio and television broadcaster RTS. The capital still bears deep scars from the air strikes, and two enormous buildings that used to house the defense ministry and the Yugoslav general chiefs of staff still stand gutted in the city's streets. After years in which the rubble was simply left alone, the premises have now been fenced off ahead of a scheduled demolition that will most likely make way for a luxury hotel. Western economists have estimated that almost 30 billion dollars in damage was done by the bombings. The NATO strikes stopped on June 10, 1999, after the Kumanovo (Macedonia) agreement and UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

    Milosevic agreed to pull his troops out of Kosovo, where over 37,000 NATO KFOR soldiers from 36 nations (mostly NATO members) entered. The first NATO contingent arrived in Kosovo on June 12, with German, Italian, American, and French troops making up the bulk of them. There are still about 5,000 KFOR soldiers in the country, and Italy is still one of the most sizable contingents.

    UNHCR data show that since the arrival of the international KFOR and UNMIK (the UN mission) forces, 230,000 Serbians and Roma have left Kosovo and 800,000 Albanian refugees have returned.

    NATO forces' use of depleted uranium have had serious consequences and traces of the substance can still be found in both Serbia and Kosovo. Numerous Italian soldiers deployed as part of the KFOR contingent have suffered the health-related consequences as well. Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, and has been recognized by 106 countries so far out of the 193 represented at the UN. Despite the fact that Serbia refuses to recognize its independence, Pristina and Belgrade signed a historic agreement in April 2013 on the normalization of relations between the two, which has helped both nations' bids to become EU member states. Belgrade began membership talks on January 21, while Pristina has begun talks expected to lead to a stabilization and association agreement with the EU.

    (ANSAmed).

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