IFJ Welcomes Court Verdict in RTS Bombing Case

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation today welcomed the Serbian court's sentencing of the former head of state television to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate staff before a NATO missile strike which killed 16 people in 1999.

Dragoljub Milanovic, a close ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, had caused "grave danger to public security" by failing to evacuate the Belgrade headquarters of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS), the court ruled. The television building was hit in a NATO missile strike on 23 April, 1999, part of NATO's 11-week air campaign to force an end to the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo.

The Belgrade court found that Milanovic did not give the order to evacuate media staff. "This verdict at least penalizes one of those responsible for this appalling incident", said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "We know that warnings were given and that they were blatantly and recklessly ignored at the cost of the lives of media workers."

NATO insisted that the TV building was a legitimate military target because it was a "propaganda mouthpiece" for the Milosevic regime. The IFJ calls on NATO to investigate its own responsibility in the 23 April 1999 air strike. At the time, the IFJ repeatedly called on NATO to refrain from targeting media. "Time has taught us that the NATO strike has set a worldwide example amongst armed forces that it is acceptable to target media, especially public media, during the initial stages of conflict," said the IFJ. Recent examples include the targeting of media in the Jammu and Kashmir conflict, the targeting of Israeli Defence Forces of Palestinian broadcast facilities, and a US strike on the offices of the Arab satellite TV Al Jazeera in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sixteen employees of RTS, mostly young people, died when a single NATO rocket hit the building in downtown Belgrade. The hit remains one of the most controversial events in the 11 weeks of NATO air raids against Serbia in 1999.

Exhausted by their efforts to prove that Milanovic was guilty for the deaths of their relatives, the families cried silently as the sentence was pronounced. The women wore traditional black mourning clothes, and the faces of the fathers and brothers were grim.

The victims of the NATO bombing of Radio Television Serbia were: Tomislav Mitrovic, Ivana Stukalo, Slavisa Stevanovic, Ksenija Bankovic, Jelica Munitlak, Milovan Jankovic, Dragan Tasic, Aleksandar Deletic, Darko Stoimenovski, Nebojsa Stojanovic, Slobodan Jontic, Dejan Markovic, Milan Joksimovic, Branislav Jovanovic, Sinisa Medic, Dragorad Dragojevic