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
"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
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. …