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Twenty Years on, Serbian victims of NATO bombings feel forgotten

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Surdulica (Serbia): On the outskirts of the southern Serbian town of Surdulica a black cross looms above a grave covered in a tangle of weeds.
This is the final resting place of some of the hundreds of civilians killed by the NATO air attacks launched 20 years ago this Sunday, a tragedy survivors feel is as forgotten as the overgrown burial ground.
“No one except for journalists has called us or asked if we need any help, how we feel. Nobody,” said 34-year-old Ivana Mitic.
Mitic’s brother, grandmother, uncle, aunt and cousins died when a NATO bomb razed their home on a residential street in Surdulica on April 27, 1999, in what the Alliance later admitted had been a “mistake”.
NATO’s three-month bombardment was an effort to halt Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a southern province that later declared independence.
On its 20th anniversary, many will celebrate the intervention for having ended the final war in Yugoslavia’s collapse, in which 13,000 were killed, mostly Kosovo Albanians.
But in Serbia the air strikes left their own trail of death and trauma in their wake.
For 78-days, NATO aircraft bombed Serbian military and civilian targets across the country, killing some 500 civilians according to Human Rights Watch. The victims included Serbs, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Roma.
The civilian deaths were never investigated by international courts, despite rights groups saying that some incidents could have violated international law or even constitute war crimes.
Mitic was 14 at the time of the bombings. Her parents were only able to identify the nine dead by the clothes, jewelry and shoes pulled out from the rubble of their house, she recalled.
“Nobody has ever come to tell us who is accountable for that crime,” she added, trembling at the memory.
The bomb that crushed Mitic grandfather’s house was one of numerous “errors” NATO admitted to afterwards.
Speaking in Brussels several days later, a spokesman for the alliance said: “One bomb went astray… Things like this can happen and in fact they happened.”
A month later on the other side of Surdulica, 21 more people were killed when NATO fired on a nursing home at midnight on May 30, 1999.
Retired doctor Miroslav Stosic, 71, was one of the rescuers who arrived at the “horrible scene” strewn with dismembered bodies. They were later buried under the cross.
“We stood here for the entire night and tried to protect the remains” from stray dogs, he told AFP.
Most of the victims were refugees from Croatia who were being housed in the complex.
According to Stosic, they had been transferred to the site, trading places with soldiers previously been based there.
NATO launched “Operation Allied Force”, without backing from the UN Security Council, after Milosevic refused to sign a peace deal to end the war.
Among the mistakes NATO admitted to was a strike on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade that killed three people. The US said outdated maps had led the pilot to the wrong target.


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International

Will make sure no air conditioning, TV for Sharif’s in jail: Imran

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Washington: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is on a visit to the United States, addressed the Pakistani diaspora in Washington. During the address he said that former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif eats home-made food in his air-conditioned jail cell that has a television in it too.

His government will ensure that Sharif does not receive such treatment in jail.

“Nawaz Sharif wants food from home in jail, he wants air conditioning in jail. But in a country where half the population has no air conditioning or TV, what kind of punishment this is?” said Imran Khan in a 50-minute speech televised by Samaa TV.

 

“I am going to go back and make sure there is no air conditioning or TV for Nawaz Sharif, who is a criminal. I know (PML-N leader) Maryam Bibi will make some noise, but I say to her, return the money. It’s as simple as that,” he added.

The 69-year-old former Prime Minister has been convicted in the Al Azizia Steel Mills case and sentenced to seven years in jail. He is serving the sentence in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Imran Khan made these remarks while addressing the Pakistani diaspora at Capital One Arena Stadium, which was attended by 30,000 Pakistanis.

Continuing his attack against Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister alleged that the PML-N leader was “propped up” by a military dictator.

“Nawaz Sharif was propped up by military dictator. Shahbaz Sharif was propped up because he was his brother.” said Imran Khan.

Khan said that the government has started seizing their undeclared properties. He claimed that these leaders have looted the country when they were in power.

“We have started seizing their undeclared properties, the billions they have taken overseas. We are in talks with other governments to bring that looted wealth back to Pakistan. We will not let accountability go,” he said.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump at the White House. He will be accompanied by Pakistan Army chief and Lieutenant General Hameed.

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Abe claims victory in upper house election

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TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, vowing to keep alive plans to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution.

With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington.

“The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

 

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take between 67 and 77 of the 124 seats — about half the chamber — up for election on Sunday, according to NHK.

The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority.

NHK’s projection and similar estimates by other media are based on exit polling and other analysis. Final numbers were not expected until Monday at the earliest.

“The results, which were within expectations, indicated that voters chose the status quo, not a change,” Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, said.

Abe is almost certain to stay in power until November when he will break the record for the nation’s longest-serving premier held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913.

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‘Window dressing, made no difference,’ says US on Hafiz Saeed’s previous arrest

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Washington: The Trump Administration expressed doubts over Pakistan’s intentions in arresting terrorist Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying his previous arrests made no difference either to his activities or that of his outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past. And we have been looking for sustained and concrete steps, not just window dressing,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US next week.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist was arrested on Wednesday — the seventh times since December 2001, when he was nabbed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

 

“Let me reassure you, we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we could see from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to these groups. So we will look for concrete action,” the official said when asked about the actions that Pakistan has taken against terrorist group and if the US believes in them.

“I noticed that Pakistan has taken some initial steps such as pledging to seize assets of some of these terrorist groups. And, of course, they put under arrest yesterday Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” said the official requesting anonymity.

But the official quickly noted that this was the seventh time that Saeed was arrested since 2001 attack on India’s Parliament when he was detained right after that attack and was subsequently released.

“That is why we are very clear eyed and realistic when you see him arrested” as he has been arrested and released in the past. “So we would look to see that Pakistan take sustained action in actually prosecuting these people,” the official said.

“Quite frankly, the previous arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed hasn’t made a difference and the LeT has been has been able to operate. So we’re monitoring the situation,” said the senior administration official as reporters asked questions on the links between Pakistani intelligence services and terrorist groups.

The US “remains concerned” about terrorist groups that continue to operate in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Haqqani network. “We do have concerns about link between these groups and Pakistan intelligence services in military. That’s no secret,” the official said.

The US, the official said, welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s pledge that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used by militant groups and its vocal leadership and the Trump Administration is pressing for a new direction in this regard.

According to the official, the US has seen some initial steps with Pakistan pledging to seize the assets of some of these terrorist leaders, pledged to reform the madrasa and has taken under administrative control some of the facilities owned by these groups.

Prime Minister Khan himself said that Pakistan cannot reach its full potential unless it has peace and stability in the region. Of course, peace and stability in the region would require it to crack down on the terrorist and militant groups that are creating the instability, the official said. Pakistan really needs to prove that this time they are something different, he said.

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