Families of NATO Bomb Victims Demand Accounting ; on June 2, UN Ruled Airstrikes Were Not War Crimes. Human Rights Groupdisagrees

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Unable to sleep, Vlasta Bankovic was up at 2 a.m. on the morning of April 23, 1999, watching Radio Television Serbia (RTS), when suddenly the screen turned to snow.

He says he knew instantly what had happened. "NATO bombed the television station and my daughter Ksenija is dead."

On today's first anniversary of United Nations oversight of Kosovo, the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that resulted in Yugoslavia's withdrawal from the province of its dominant republic, Serbia, remains a contentious issue at home and abroad.

For NATO, few other single bombings during Operation Allied Force, which ended on June 10, 1999, have proven as controversial. For families of the 16 victims, the bombing has brought deep sorrow, a feeling of manipulation, and a thirst for justice.

"Our kids died as the cynical victims of NATO and our own government. Their deaths were unnecessary and are still wrapped in a veil of secrecy. Nobody has accepted responsibility for this act. This crime has been ignored by NATO and our government, and now we're living for a day of justice," says Zanka Stojanovic, who lost her youngest son Nebojsa in the RTS attack.

The families were crestfallen on June 2, when Carla del Ponte, the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor at The Hague ruled there was no basis for an investigation into allegations of NATO war crimes. According to the Yugoslav government, the bombings resulted in 400 to 600 civilian deaths. No NATO forces were killed in hostile action during the air campaign.

But in a report published last week by Amnesty International, the human rights group charged that NATO violated the rules of war in not taking sufficient measures to protect civilian lives. The report singles out the RTS bombing as "a war crime."

The 1977 Protocol I, an addition to the 1949 Geneva Convention on rules of war, prohibits attacks on civilian objects and says that the risk of civilian deaths must be proportional to direct military objectives.

"NATO deliberately attacked a civilian object ... for the purpose of disrupting Serbian television broadcasts in the middle of the night for approximately three hours. It is hard to see how this can be consistent with the rule of proportionality," the Amnesty report states.

Thirteen of the television station victims were technical or production staff, three were security guards. The Yugoslav government depicted them as dedicated journalists and lauded them as heroes. But when the government sent the families certificates of valor for their deceased relatives, nine sent them back.

"Our kids weren't heroic journalists. They were technical staff working in a television station in the middle of the night. …