Guardian
TV's silent warning

15 died but no apology for bombing broadcasters

Maggie O'Kane

Wednesday March 15, 2000


Belgrade - Mrs Stojanovic woke suddenly at 2.20am on the faded, chocolate-brown sofa of her two-room flat in Belgrade. It was April 23 1999, in block 39 of a complex of gloomy apartment blocks on a windy hill in the suburbs of Belgrade. She had fallen asleep with the television on; usually the Nato bombers kept her awake.

She opened her eyes and looked at the television on top of the glass cabinet where she kept her leather-bound encyclopedias. The TV picture was gone and, at that moment, she knew that the last of her five children was dead.

Zanha Stojanovic, a 63-year-old retired primary school teacher, died inside that night, when four tonnes of explosives flew through the glass-plated lobby of Belgrade's Radio Television Serbia (RTS) and killed her 26-year-old son, Nebojsa, her last surviving child.

Nato killed 15 others that night, most of them technicians in their early 20s.

"None of us know exactly what we buried. I got a small envelope with a part of his gold chain and his car keys," Mrs Stojanovic says. Nebojsa's workmate Ksenija was identified by her sock, Darko by a shoe and Bane after a DNA test on a toe.

A month before the bombing, General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme military commander, had sent two planes to bomb RTS. The pictures of Nato's bungled attacks and civilian casualties aired via the Serb state television station were the biggest threat to the west's united war effort.

But that night in March, according to the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Patrick Sloyan, the attack was called off when someone at Nato headquarters leaked the attack to the president of CNN, Tom Johnston, who allegedly screamed down the phone to Nato HQ begging them to call it off. The French president, Jacques Chirac, vetoed the bombing and the two Nato planes that were already two hours out of Aviano airport in Italy were ordered to abandon their mission.

A month later, on the night of April 22, when Mrs Stojanovic was dozing on the sofa, there were no presidents of TV stations or countries trying to save the life of her last child.

Mrs Stojanovic was 22 when her first son, Branislav, died of a viral infection at seven months. When she was in her early 30s, she watched her 10-year-old daughter, Radmila, die from bone cancer. It took six months. Her twin boys, born prematurely, lived for two days in 1972.

It's almost a year since the bombing of RTS and the death of Nebojsa. Mrs Stojanovic is still dressed in black, with a cameo of her son on her lapel. "We will always want to know whose direct order it was. Was it Mr Clinton, was it Mr Blair or was it General Clark? And who gave them the right to kill those kids? Who gave those people the right to decide how long a person should live?"

She has other questions - bitter ones. "My pain would be less if the management of RTS had tried to relocate them. Instead, they put up a notice ordering them to stay in the building, even though the foreign journalists warned them.

"The station ordered them to serve their country. We believe they were sacrificed by our own government for the propaganda of Nato attacking the freedom of the press."

Facing the future

Nebojsa, a slim, gentle man with a love of skiing, used to frighten his mother sometimes saying he was going to emigrate to New Zealand. "Most of his friends have left the country since this all began, trying to get away to a normal life - to Botswana, to England - and they never came back.

"Despite everything that has happened to me I have to keep fighting for the future for all the kids around us. Deep in my soul, I am a teacher. I love children, but I'm not afraid to speak out now.

"My belief is that the man [Slobodan Milosevic] is sick in a particular way. Looking from the point of view of ordinary Serbs, I don't know what kind of a curse he put on us."

She and her son had lived together in block 39 since her husband's death in 1994. Nebojsa was a child of the war generation. Drafted to Bosnia in 1991, he returned to work as a technician at RTS.

"In that first month of the bombing we got used to it, but in the park there were no birds any more, no squirrels any more. We lived in that climate saying they are not going to bomb our house, we are safe. He [Nebojsa] said to me 'mother, look at my palm, I have a long life line. They will bomb the transmitters not RTS'."

After the bombing, Mrs Stojanovic stayed in her apartment for four days. Then she took her dog, Jeana, and went to the RTS building.

"There were rumours of noises, voices being heard under the rubble, that someone was trying to call on a mobile phone. I took our dog because maybe she could help with something. She was his dog.

"The security people didn't want to let me into the building - one of them even pointed his gun at me. It was a rainy day, slippy and muddy and everything covered in dust. I went up the stairs of the building and I realised that there was no life there. Then my cousin came and said 'Nebojsa has been identified, come on let's go home, there is nothing else for you here'.

On the window sill behind her in a pine frame is a picture of the grave where her five children and her husband lie. "I live in a cemetery," she says.

About 500 military personnel and a similar number of civilians were killed by Nato bombs. So far, the only people to have received an apology are the families of the three staff killed in the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.



Original article