Families seek justice over Serb TV deaths

BELGRADE, Jul 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) The families of Serbs killed in last year's NATO bombing of the state television building are suing both the television bosses and NATO for their deaths, a victim's mother said on Thursday.

"We think they are both equally responsible and both sides are running away from their guilt," Zanka Stojanovic, whose son Nebojsa was among 16 people killed when NATO struck the television building on 23 April, told Reuters.

Twelve of the families earlier this week pressed criminal charges with the Belgrade municipal prosecutor's office against the television's bosses, she said.

The families say they "violated the law by not allowing employees to go into shelters during an air raid".

Separately four families of those who died and a survivor filed a suit against NATO last October with the European Court of Human Rights, a move that only became public this week.

The non-government Belgrade Center for Human Rights said in a statement that the plaintiffs were claiming compensation for death and injury arising from NATO bombing of the RTS building.

It said the application, filed under the European Convention on Human Rights, was directed against 17 NATO states, excluding the United States and Canada, which are not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Convention.

"The 17 NATO states which took part in or approved the attack and which are also signatories to the European convention failed to protect the right to life which is a duty of all States under the Convention." it said.


Stojanovic said she hoped justice would be done.

She said the months that elapsed between the suit against NATO and the one against the heads of the television were designed to allow the Serb authorities to react to the families' demands for an inquiry into the bombing.

"It was their duty to take these people out, why were they left in the building after the sirens sounded. How come none of the bosses were there when the bombs hit?" she asked.

She was bitter over allegations that some people were using the families' pain for political purposes.

"We simply want justice to be done. They were sacrificed in vain," she said.

The families received letters from Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub Jankovic expressing his understanding for their pain and telling them the state would soon try those responsible for the NATO bombing in the Belgrade district court.

Stojanovic said the minister's answer was "cynical" because the authorities planned to organize a "phantom trial of world leaders who will not be present" but it made no mention of television bosses also blamed by the families.

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.

NATO, which mounted the air campaign against Yugoslavia over its repression of Kosovo Albanians, said it hit the building because its broadcasts were part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's war machine.

The Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal said in June it saw no reason to open an investigation into NATO over the bombing. Stojanovic said she hoped the tribunal would reconsider.

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