News 24 Mar 15

Kosovo President: NATO Air Strikes Were ‘Humanitarian’

On the 16th anniversary of the launch of NATO’s strikes on Yugoslavia, President Atifete Jahjaga said the Western military intervention had prevented genocide and helped set Kosovo free.

Petrit Collaku
BIRN
Pristina

 

Atifete Jahjaga. Photo: Beta.

Jahjaga on Tuesday expressed gratitude to NATO for its military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces that started on March 24, 1999.

“These attacks were the most humanitarian acts in the history of the North Atlantic alliance, [showing] the powerful determination of the democratic world [to combat] aggressive politics and protect the civilian population,” Jahjaga said in a statement.

She said that March 24 marked the beginning of the return of hope for a new life for the people of Kosovo.

“We express gratitude to the USA and to the member countries of the EU and NATO that were dedicated and engaged in the protection of civilisation’s values and made it possible that Kosovo is a country of free and equal citizens today,” Jahjaga said.

After a Kosovo government meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa also thanked NATO member countries for taking action.

“After 16 years, we are experiencing Kosovo as a free, sovereign and independent country that aims to integrate into the European Union,” Mustafa told his cabinet.

Serbs in north Kosovo meanwhile held a memorial service at the church of St Dimitrije in Mitrovica to mark the anniversary.

After the service, local officials and the representatives of Serbian government’s Kosovo office laid wreaths and flowers at the Istina (Truth) memorial next to the bridge that divides the town into its Serb-run northern sector and Albanian-run southern sector.

“Sixteen years ago, 19 NATO member countries started a war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that claimed thousands of innocent victims, causing catastrophic destruction in the country,” said Mitrovic mayor Goran Rakic, according to Serbian news agency Tanjug.

A few hundred local Serbs also staged a protest walk from the bridge to a former police building that was destroyed during the bombing in 1999.

On Tuesday evening, Serbian officials will also hold a commemorative ceremony in front of the former Yugoslav Army headquarters which was demolished during the 1999 NATO bombardment.

The ceremony is scheduled for 19:58 - the time at which the bombardment started.

The 78-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was the West’s response to the failure of talks to try to bring an end to the conflict in Kosovo.

It is still unclear how many people were killed during the air campaign which ended with Serbian forces quitting Kosovo. The Serbian government estimates that at least 2,500 people died and 12,500 were injured.

Serbia’s defence ministry says NATO forces killed 631 of its troops. NATO has never revealed its losses.

During the NATO bombing, Yugoslav forces carried out an extensive campaign in Kosovo, resulting in the expulsion of the Kosovo Albanian population.

The Hague Tribunal charged Milosevic and six other top officials with committing war crimes in Kosovo, although the former leader died before a verdict was reached.

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