German Court Hears New Serb Appeal Over 1999 Bombing | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.10.2006
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German Court Hears New Serb Appeal Over 1999 Bombing

The families of civilians killed and wounded in a NATO air strike on a Serbian town seven years ago sought compensation from a German court on Thursday.

A man looking over the remains of the bombed bridge in Varvarin

10 people died and 30 were injured in the NATO attack on Varvarin

Ten people died and 30 were injured in the May 1999 attacks on a bridge in the Serbian town of Varvarin at the height of the Kosovo war.

The initial attack took place on Sunday, May 31, shortly after 1 pm, while most locals were celebrating an Orthodox Christian holiday. Most of the people who were killed died during a second strike, which occurred a few minutes after the first one, while trying to aid the victims of the previous attack.

Although no German planes took part in the raid, the plaintiffs are seeking 536,000 euros ($675,000) in damages from the German government.

They claim German troops serving with NATO helped select the target and Germany therefore shared responsibility for the NATO action.

Two lower courts had previously rejected claims for compensation.

A legitimate target?

The building of Germany's federal court of justice

Germany's federal court of justice in Karlsruhe

Three of the 35 plaintiffs appeared before Germany's federal court of justice to present their case on Thursday.

Lawyers for the German government called the attack a "tragedy," but said they could not see why damages should be paid because the bridge was a military target.

NATO has defended the bombing and said the bridge was a "legitimate" target that served as infrastructure for the Serbian army fighting in Kosovo.

Varvarin mayor Zoran Milenkovic, who lost his daughter Sanja in the air strike, said before the hearing that "the town was not defended and could not defend itself against a NATO strike." Vavarian, a town of 4,000, is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the province of Kosovo where Slobodon Milosevic's Serbian army was suppressing ethnic Albanians.

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