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Ten Years On, IFJ says NATO must apologise over Belgrade media killings

(IFJ/IFEX) - 23 April 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today said that, ten years after NATO forces defied the protests of journalists and human rights groups and bombed a television centre in Belgrade killing 16 media staff, the damage from that unprecedented strike is still being felt.

"When NATO forces decided to strike at the television of station RTS in Belgrade because they found its propaganda offensive they set a terrible precedent," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "That attack opened the door to a decade of attacks on media in conflict zones and has made journalism more dangerous than ever."

Boumelha says that NATO should admit its mistake on April 23rd 1999 when it targeted the Serbian state broadcaster in its struggle with the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. "The lives lost are gone forever, but an apology from NATO to the families and colleagues of those who died is long overdue," he said.

Only days before the attack, the IFJ had received an assurance from NATO officials that it would not attack media during the conflict over the future of Kosovo. Such an attack is in contravention of international law, warned the IFJ and other press freedom advocates, even if the media concerned are guilty of propaganda. Attacks are only permitted on media when they are actively engaged in the strategic process of war.

But the NATO strike went ahead. Those who died were forced to stay at their posts despite warnings of the attack, raising claims that they had been deliberately placed in danger by the RTS bosses. Following the attack, other assaults on media installations - particularly by the Israeli military which attacked media in Lebanon in 2006 and in the Gaza Strip earlier this year - have been justified by NATO's action.

The IFJ pledged at this anniversary to support journalists in Serbia in their efforts to seek justice for their colleagues who died during the attack and to overcome the legacy of divisive politics which for so long has undermined the profession.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

Updates alerts on 1999 RTS bombing: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/17617

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