News 25 Mar 13

Death Toll From NATO Yugoslavia Bombing Still Unknown

Serbia commemorated its dead 14 years after the NATO air strikes that ended the Kosovo war, but the exact number of people killed has yet to be properly established.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic lays a wreath at the Strazevica Hill monument I Photo by Beta

Ceremonies were held across Serbia on Sunday to remember the victims of the 1999 NATO military campaign to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic laid flowers at a memorial on Strazevica Hill in Belgrade where Yugoslav Army troops were killed in a NATO air attack in 1999.

“I hope that there will be no need to die for Serbia, but to live and work for our country,” Dacic said.

During the 78 days of the military campaign, the Serbian government estimates that at least 2,500 people died and 12,500 were injured.

But the exact death toll and the full extent of the damage remains unclear.

It is estimated that the bombing damaged 25,000 houses and apartment buildings and destroyed 470 kilometres of roads and 600 kilometres of railway.

So far only Serbia’s defence ministry has publicly revealed its data, saying that NATO forces killed 631 members of the Serbian armed forces, while a further 28 went missing.

NATO has also never revealed its losses.

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia started on March 24, 1999, as the West’s response to the failure of the Rambouillet talks to try to bring an end to the conflict in Kosovo.

Representatives of the EU, USA and Russia met in the French town of Rambouillet to mediate between then Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and representatives of the Kosovo Albanians, but no solution was found.

On Sunday, a delegation from Serbia’s defence ministry, led by minister Aleksandar Vucic, laid wreaths in front of a monument dedicated to fallen air force servicemen and air defence troops in Belgrade. 

“What the members of our air forces did for our country should never be forgotten,” Vucic said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, held a service in honour of the victims at St Marko’s Church in the capital.

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.

According to the Centre for Humanitarian Law in Belgrade, around 9,401 people were killed or went missing in Kosovo during the period of the NATO bombing, the majority of them Albanians.

The bombing ended on June 10, 1999, after the signing of the Kumanovo Agreement and the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which was followed by the withdrawal of all Yugoslav military forces from Kosovo and the arrival of 36,000 international peacekeepers.

When the Yugoslav army moved out, the Kosovo Liberation Army expelled the majority of Serbs from Kosovo.

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