Serbia marks anniversary of NATO bombing

BELGRADE -- Serbia today marks the 12th anniversary since NATO launched its air campaign against targets in then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ).

A destroyed bridge in the Ibar Gorge (Tanjug, file)
A destroyed bridge in the Ibar Gorge (Tanjug, file)

The campaign, code-named Operation Allied Force, involved 19 NATO countries and began March 24, 1999.

It lasted 78 days, resulting in 2,500 civilian deaths, 89 of whom were children, and 1,031 dead soldiers and police officers, Tanjug reports.

Around 6,000 civilians were injured, of whom 2,700 were children. The military and police had 5,173 injured. NATO's losses have never been made public.

More than half of the casualties from NATO attacks were among the Kosovo Albanians, although the western officials had claimed the intervention was necessary to protect them and named it “Merciful Angel”.

The data on the material damage caused by NATO's strikes differs. Authorities in Belgrade at the time said it was close to USD 100bn, and asked for compensation, while then opposition group of economists G17 said the damage done to Serbia was equal to USD 29.6bn.

A third of the country's electric energy capacity was destroyed, while refineries in Pančevo and Novi Sad were also attacked.

The decision to go forward with the campaign was made without the consent of the UN Security Council, which was something that had never happened before. The NATO forces were commanded by now retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, who received the order to begin the campaign from Javier Solana, NATO's secretary general at the time.

Yugoslavia was attacked after being blamed for the failure of the negotiations on Kosovo's status, held in Rambouillet and Paris. The Serbian authorities, headed by Slobodan Milošević, refused to accept the military annex to the proposed agreement, which was interpreted as a permission to occupy the country.

The bombing destroyed whole residential blocks in a number of towns and cities, like Aleksinac, Kuršumlija, Ćuprija, Niš, Novi Sad, Murin, Valjevo and Surdulica, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

The campaign ended when the Yugoslav authorities signed the Military Technical Agreement in Kumanovo, Macedonia, June 9, 1999. Three days later, the Yugoslav forces began withdrawing from Kosovo.

Solana gave the official order to stop the bombing on June 10.

The same day, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which confirmed Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo, while NATO established the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and sent 37,200 troops from 36 countries to the territory.