NATO carried out a 78-day campaign of airstrikes against Yugoslavia in 1999 after accusing Belgrade of committing war crimes in Kosovo. The strikes left as many as 5,700 civilians dead, and contaminated part of the region with depleted uranium, leading to a spike in juvenile cancer rates.
Speaking to students at the University of Belgrade as part of his three-day tour of Serbia on Sunday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained that the bombing of Yugoslavia was not aimed against ordinary Serbs, but against President Slobodan Milosevic.
“We are aware in NATO that many people in Serbia still have bad memories about the bombing, the airstrikes in 1999,” Stoltenberg said, speaking to Serbia’s RTS television channel. “I stress that we did this to protect civilians and stop the Milosevic regime,” he added.
Two decades after the bombing, Stoltenberg called on Serbians to “look to the future,” and pointed to what he said was an “excellent relationship” between the military bloc and Belgrade.
“We need dialogue to solve the differences and to find political solutions,” the official said, referring to the conflict between Belgrade and its breakaway region of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
“NATO supports [dialogue], not only politically, but also because we are present in Kosovo in the form of the KFOR,” Stoltenberg stressed, referring to the NATO-led force deployed…