NEWS 23 Mar 17

Serbia Exhibits Weapon That Downed US Stealth Bomber

Commemorating the victims of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the anti-aircraft rocket launcher that shot down a US F-117A aircraft stealth bomber in 1999 went on display at Belgrade’s Military Museum.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
The unveiling of the NEVA anti-aircraft system. Photo: Beta/Emil Vas.

Belgrade’s Military Museum on Thursday marked Serbia’s annual remembrance day for the victims of the 1999 NATO strikes by making the NEVA anti-aircraft system that shot down a US stealth bomber part of its permanent outdoor exhibit.

Its installation as an exhibit is intended to commemorate the victims and serve as a permanent reminder of the bombing, the state secretary at the defence ministry, Nenad Neric, said at the unveiling ceremony.

“The air raids targeted military objectives, but also hospitals, embassies, roads, bridges and entire cities,” Neric said.

Retired Yugoslav Army Colonel Zoltan Dani, whose unit shot down the F-117A stealth bomber, spoke at the ceremony about how it happened, on the fourth day of the NATO campaign.

“Many things had to come together. We had an excellent team and functioning equipment, we just needed a bit of soldier's luck,” Dani said.

The F-117A, which was hit over the village of Budjanovci in northern Serbia, remains the first and only downing of an aircraft with stealth technology in combat.

Colonel Dani later became friends with US pilot Dale Zelko, who safely parachuted out of the downed F-177A.

Their friendship became the subject of a documentary called film ‘The Second Meeting’.

“The movie was a unique opportunity to send a message to the world that peace and compromise is better,” Dani told BIRN.

NATO launched air strikes on March 24, 1999, without the backing of the UN Security Council, after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to sign up to a peace deal to end his forces’ violent crackdown on Kosovo Albanians seeking independence.

By the time Milosevic eventually conceded 78 days later, paving the way for NATO to enter Kosovo, the civilian death toll from the bombing campaign was put at around 500 by Human Rights Watch.

Serbia estimates that NATO’s bombing campaign cost the country $30 billion in direct damage caused by bombs and missiles.

Health concerns also still remain about the danger to civilians from the weapons NATO used during the campaign.

Despite years of demining campaigns, a number of cluster bomblets remain scattered across Serbia, while the use of weapons with cancer-causing depleted uranium is believed to have killed dozens of Italian soldiers during missions to Kosovo, according to European NGOs.

In 2006, Serbia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, a framework for practical cooperation with countries aspiring to join NATO, but public opinion in Serbia remains strongly against joining the alliance.

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