News 22 Apr 14

Serbia Urged to Probe NATO Bombing of State TV

The Journalists’ Association of Serbia called on the authorities to reveal secret documents about the NATO bombing of the public broadcaster in 1999, when 16 people were killed.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Bomb damage at the RTS building. Photo: Beta.

Ahead of the 15th anniversary of the deadly NATO air strike on the headquarters of public broadcaster RTS in Belgrade on April 23, the Journalists’ Association of Serbia said on Tuesday that “an investigation into this war crime has still not been conducted”.

The association called on the defence ministry and the Military Security Agency “to provide all the necessary documents that are important for finding those responsible for this horrific crime”.

The attack on the RTS headquarters was one of the most controversial strikes of NATO’s 78-day air war, aimed at forcing Serbia to withdraw its police and military from Kosovo during the 1999 conflict.

Describing RTS as Serbian strongman leader Slobodan Milosevic’s “ministry of lies”, NATO said it was a legitimate target because it pumped out propaganda in support of the regime.

Soon after the bombing campaign ended, the families of those killed in the RTS building accused Milosevic of “sacrificing” their lives in order to score political points against NATO, as it was clear the government had known the building was a target.

Milosevic was overthrown in 2000 and two years later, the former director of RTS, Dragoljub Milanovic, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for failing to carry out an order to evacuate the building.

The relatives of the dead and the NGOs who campaigned alongside them were not satisfied with the verdict, however.

They have accused the authorities, and specifically the defence ministry, of impeding their efforts to establish an inquiry.

Their suspicions have been fuelled by reports of an internal memo which supposedly confirmed that defence officials knew beforehand of plans to target the RTS building.

The claim was made by Colonel Lakic Djorovic, a legal officer from the military who was tasked with gathering evidence for the trial of RTS director Milanovic. He said a certain file, numbered 466, contained papers showing that an army command centre had overheard NATO pilots’ plans and passed the information to their headquarters.

But the defence ministry denied the existence of any such document and published several papers which it said were the entire contents of file number 466.

The recently-established commission for resolving the murders of journalists during the 1990s is also currently investigating the case.

The Hague Tribunal previously launched an investigation too, but later decided to drop the case.

In a brief announcement on their website on Tuesday, families of the victims said that 15 years after the crime, they still haven’t received an answer to the question why their family members were sacrificed.

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