Relatives blame Nato, officials for Serb TV deaths

BELGRADE, Apr 24, 2000 -- (Reuters) Relatives of 16 Serbian state television workers killed in a NATO bomb attack on their building a year ago accused the authorities on Sunday of playing Russian roulette with the victims.

Over 2,000 people attended a religious ceremony in a park near the building where the families had built a granite headstone with one word above the names of those killed: Why?

Relatives of some of those killed expressed their anger at NATO but also at the bosses of Serbian State Television (RTS) who had ordered the workers to stay overnight in a building the alliance had warned might be bombed.

"We ask the top people at RTS, why did you play Russian roulette with our dearest ones?" Mirjana Stoimenovski, the mother of 25-year-old Darko, a technician, told the mourners.

In a speech read in the name of all the relatives, Stoimenovski said the television management had known the building was a designated NATO target but had done nothing to protect its workers.

NATO said it hit the building because its broadcasts were part of Milosevic's "war machine". The programs were back on the air within six hours.

"How is it possible that you continued broadcasting your program the same morning? Why didn't you use that alternative solution before the workers were killed?" Stoimenovski said.

State television officials have denied the employees were being used as human shields. Other buildings hit by NATO, including one housing a television station run by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's daughter, were evacuated.

The relatives had earlier lit candles at the monument at 0206 (0006 GMT) to mark the time the bombing happened.

In a demonstration of the disagreement between the families and authorities, RTS management held separate ceremonies.

Director Dragoljub Milanovic and officials from Milosevic's Socialist Party laid wreaths near the building and unveiled a plaque with the names of those killed.

He said NATO's top military commander General Wesley Clark and U.S. President Bill Clinton were the ones to blame.

"We remind those who still do not want to know who the killers were of something the entire world knows - the killers were NATO pilots, General Clark, Bill Clinton," Milanovic said.

The television station was among nine sites where civilians died that were pinpointed in a Human Rights Watch report on the bombing in February. It said they were non-military targets and accused NATO of violations of international humanitarian law.

Borka Bankovic, the mother of 17-year-old victim Ksenija, criticized Milanovic for saying the dead workers were heroes.

"They are not heroes, they were doing their work, they were at their work place and it was the officials' duty to protect them. They had manipulated everyone in that RTS building all the way up to April 23," she said.

Serb opposition parties have urged the authorities to name those who "sacrificed" the television employees and on Friday, a documentary film was shown about the deaths which held the management responsible for not evacuating people.

Three opposition buildings, including a municipal office in the opposition-run central Vracar district where the film was screened on Friday night, were later covered with swastikas and graffiti saying "traitors" and "NATO servants".

Original article