4 April, 1999

4 April 1999: Thousands of Athenians carrying banners and crucifixes march past the parliament in a candlelight protest against Nato's escalation of its bombing campaign on Yugoslavia with the overnight bombardment of Belgrade suburbs, which coincided with the start of the Greek-Orthodox Holy Week in Greece. The massive US-Ied bombardment was launched on March 24 against Serb positions in Kosovo following Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's refusal to abandon his country's sovereignty over the southern most Serbian province to its ethnic

Albanian majority and a Western-backed guerrilla group called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which the Serb government accused of terrorism and financial links with Osama Bin Laden's notorious Islamist AI Qaida organisation. The airstrikes; which triggered a mass exodus of thousands of ethnic Albanians to neighbouring Balkan countries, lasted, continuously for 73 days, from 24 March to 11 June 1999, when Serbia finally agreed to withdraw its military forces from Kosovo. The bombardment, which devastated the infrastructure of major Serbian towns and cities killing hundreds, involved up to 1,000 aircraft operating mainly from bases in Italy and aircraft carriers stationed in the Adriatic. Tomahawk cruise missiles - hardened with depleted uranium - were also extensively used, fired from aircraft, ships and submarines. The United States was the dominant member of the coalition against Serbia, although all of the Nato members were dragged into it, one way or the other - even Greece, despite publicly opposing the war.
Over the ten weeks of the Allied onslaught, Nato aircraft flew over 38,000 'combat' missions over Yugoslavia. For the German airForce (Luftwaffe) it was the first time it had participated in a conflict since World War II. Two German Tornado pilots became the first 'prisoners of war' in the conflict on 27 March 1999, The proclaimed goal of the Nato operation was to oust the Serb army from the province, to be replaced by international peacekeepers in order to ensure that 200,000 Albanian refugees could return to their homes in Kosovo. However, the end result caused Nato considerable embarrassment after the war, when over 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities fled or were expelled from the 'ethnically cleansed' province, paving the way for the Kosovo Albanians' pursuit of cessation from Serbia. a matter which is currently still being debated at the UN Security Council.

Dimitris Yannopoulos

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(Posting date 4 June 2007)

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