A French company, Touax SA, is suing the German Government for $9 billion in a German court (in Bonn) for damages sustained as a result of the bombing of Yugoslavia by Nato in 1999. Suits have also been presented in the Belgian and French courts.

In April 1999, Nato bombed three bridges in the Danube at Novi Sad, and this blocked the Danube making it unnavigable for Touax's 500 or so ships. Two of the bridges have been rebuilt but one of them has been replaced by a pontoon bridge, which makes river traffic impossible. Touax says that only 24 of its ships can be used now.

The pontoon bridge is occasionally opened up, but if ships miss the opening time, they have to wait for days. Also, the Serbian authorities have started to demand fees for letting boats pass, whereas before the transit under the bridges was obviously free.

Touax says that Germany is responsible for the losses it has sustained because it joined in the Nato action. Because that attack was undertaken with no UN mandate, it was illegal, say Touax's lawyers.

The same court rejected an appeal in December by families of 10 civilians killed in May 1999 when the Morava bridge was bombed at Varvarin. The court did not rule on the legality of the war, but rejected the case simply because it said that claims for damages as a result of war were the responsibility of international law and not civil law. Individuals could not make claims, only states could.

The German Government hopes to plead the same case this time round, although that earlier case is still under appeal. The German Government claims that the war was legal, and adds that such claims have a statute of limitation of three years. [Handelsblatt, 16th February 2004]