Germany sued for strike on Varvarin bridge

Varvarin bridge

Berlin, 17 January, 2001 - German attorney Ulrich Dost announced a lawsuit against the German government to claim damages of victims of a Nato air strike on the bridge in Varvarin. Villagers who lost relatives on the local bridge came to Berlin for the occasion.

At a news conference 37-year-old Vesna Milenkovic recounted how she had lost her bright daughter Sanja (15) who, at that time, was the national school champion in mathematics. "I lost my whole life in five minutes. Who would have thought that such a thing could happen in Europe in 1999 and no one would be responsible for it."

Nato said the bridge was a legitimate target. It was said that the civilian casualties on that tragic Sunday on 30 May 1999, were collateral damage. A spokesman for the German government said the case involved Nato as a whole. "Germany was only part of that."

Amnesty International wrote about the incident in its report entitled Collateral damage or unlawful killing? Violations of the laws of war by Nato during operation Allied Force. The strike that took place at about 1 PM on a market day in the village killed eleven and heavily injured other forty people. The bridge near the market was too narrow to be used by large military vehicles. That is why German lawyer Dost alleges that it was not a legitimate military target. A school teacher said the following: "It is well known that Sunday is a market day here and people are lined along the street down to the bridge selling things."

Dost seeks some 3 million euros in damages and compensation. He said the basis for the lawsuit was contained in amendment 1977 to the Geneva Convention calling on the signatories to direct their operations only to military targets. Likewise, Dost cited the Greek Supreme Court ruling of 2000 that Germany should pay nearly 25 million euros to the survivors of the June 1944 massacre in the central Greek village of Distomo, where SS forces killed 218 men, women and children. Wartime slave labourers of the Nazi era will also receive compensation at last.