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Did NATO Kill 'Thousands' During 1999 Campaign Against Former Yugoslavia?

Sergei Lavrov

Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister

“I will recall that the aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was associated with attacks on a huge number of civilian facilities… Thousands of those killed, several hundred children out of them..."

Likely False
...hundreds not thousands died.

NATO began its bombing campaign in March 1999 to halt Belgrade’s crackdown on Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population. Over 78 days, NATO military jets carried out 38,000 sorties – 10,484 of them strike sorties.

Yugoslav officials said “several thousand” people were killed, but a detailed account by Belgrade of the damage inflicted in the campaign, NATO Crimes in Yugoslavia (The White Book), listed around 400 civilians killed in over 40 incidents of bombings.

Human Rights Watch estimated that about 500 civilians were killed in approximately 90 incidents.

The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center has estimated 758 civilians were killed in NATO air raids.

The Belgrade-based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) has argued the number of casualties of NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia need to be put in perspective.

"For instance, approximately 13,500 people were killed in the period from the beginning of 1998 until late 2000, in the conflict in Kosovo, 10,800 of whom were Albanians, 2,200 Serbs, and approximately 500 were Roma and other non-Albanians,"CEAS has said.

NATO denied deliberately targeting non-military buildings during the campaign, codenamed Operation Allied Force, and insisted all possible measures were taken to avoid civilian casualties.

However, the record shows NATO did bomb infrastructure, either intentionally or accidentally.

Controversially, NATO bombed the headquarters of public broadcaster Radio Televizija Srbija (RTS) in Belgrade on April 23, killing 16 people.

NATO said the attack was justified, because the broadcaster was the “propaganda machine” of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Journalists and humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, condemned the strike against the RTS headquarters.

Amnesty International said the bombing of RTS “constitutes a war crime.” A year after NATO ended its bombing of Yugoslavia, Amnesty issued a report in June 2000 accusing the Western military alliance of breaching international rules of warfare.

The report, Collateral Damage of Unlawful Killings, argued NATO’s decision to have its pilots fly at high altitudes to avoid Serbian air defenses made their bombing inaccurate and thereby made civilian casualties inevitable.

George Robertson, NATO's secretary-general at the time the report was released, denied Amnesty International's accusations, saying that the alliance had "scrupulously adhered to international law." Robertson said the air campaign had halted what he called "the most brutal ethnic violence" seen in Europe since World War II.

The report was released less than a week after Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, told the United Nations Security Council that her investigation had found no basis for charging NATO with war crimes. Del Ponte said that although ''some mistakes were made by NATO,'' she was ''very satisfied that there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or unlawful military targets.''