NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Monday’s issue of Belgrade daily Politika that the 1999 air campaign against FR Yugoslavia was not taken lightly but that history has shown that it was a legitimate and necessary action.
The interview was published on the anniversary of the end of the NATO air strikes which began on March 24, 1999 and ended on June 10.
“Considering the crisis which was underway the use of force by NATO was not taken lightly. It never was. History has shown that it was necessary and legitimate because it stopp the violence and the refugees could return home,” he said.
Stoltenberg said that the 20 years of peace and stability in Kosovo are a priority for the Allaince. “A stable Kosovo is important to the region and peace and stability in Kosovo have been a NATO priority for 20 years. The UN mandate for our KFOR peace mission remains unchanged,” he said and added that KFOR has secured a safe environment for all, including the Kosovo Serb community.
According to the Secretary General, NATO continues to cause controversy in Serbia with painful memories of the air campaign for many. It was not aimed against the Serbian people but was intended to protect civilians by stopping the activities of the Milosevic regime, he said.
Stoltenberg said the past must not be forgotten but should be put behind us. “That is what NATO and Serbia are doing through their partnership which is useful to NATO, Serbia and the wider region,” he said, adding that practical cooperation shows that the Alliance values the partnership and that NATO fully respects Serbia’s policy of military neutrality.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said that the US understand how sensitive the NATO air campaign is for people in Serbia. “We are very sorry about the loss of life but NATO took the decision for reasons which can absolutely be explained. Instead of looking back all the time we should encourage people to look forward,” he said.
Asked about the NATO air campaign at a news conference on Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that “there was no sufficient reason” for the “NATO aggression” in 1999 which destroyed many lives and the economic and political infrastructure of Serbia in terms of attitudes towards the West. “If the Serbian people think we should head into the future with bad relations with the US, they should find a new president or government,” he told reporters after a meeting with senior State Department official Matthew Palmer.
“The Serbian people have paid a price that they did not deserve to pay even though we were not always angels,” the Serbian president said.