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Serbians angry at Trump family deal for site of NATO bombing

By AFP

March 24, 2024 12:11 PM


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A bombed-out building in Belgrade, which has stood as a national symbol of the 1999 NATO strikes on Serbia, might soon become a luxury hotel financed by Donald Trump's son-in-law -- much to the anger of locals.

Jared Kushner, who also served as an adviser to his father-in-law during his US presidency, confirmed in mid-March his plans to invest in luxury real estate in Serbia, including the old site of the Yugoslav army headquarters.

Serbian opposition member of parliament Aleksandar Jovanovic Cuta and an investigation by the New York Times revealed that the Serbian government was going to transfer the building and the surrounding land to a company owned by Kushner.

Leaked plans indicated the building will be replaced by three large glass towers a few metres from the Serbian defence and foreign ministries.

The 99-year lease was given to Kushner's company free of charge, the New York Times said.

The sale of the building is a sensitive issue for Serbians as it has become an emblem of the 1999 US-led NATO aerial bombing campaign that put an end to the war in Kosovo.

"Leaving it like this for another 200 years isn't really a solution," retired journalist Srdja Nikolic said.

"But I am against the idea of giving it as a gift to anyone -- particularly to those who initiated what happened."

 

- Symbol of 'struggle' -

 

The bombing began on March 24, 1999, without the approval of the UN Security Council. It aimed to end Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's bloody crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo.

It ended in June that year with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, putting an end to the conflict that killed more than 13,000 people.

The ruined building "is evidence of the destruction of international law," Nikolic said, "destroyed in 1999 by the trampling of the United Nations Charter, with false excuses."

Even in ruins, the building "represents our struggle, a difficult period that we navigated and from which we emerged victorious", said Sanja Handzic, a 28-year-old local dental technician.

The building, which was the headquarters of the old Yugoslav army, was declared a "cultural asset" by the Serbian government in 2005.

Local resident Jasminka Avramovic, 66, remembers the day the building was hit by a bomb.

"I was born in the Senjak district, near here. When they bombed here, I came to Sarajevo Street to pick up pieces of glass. I still have the pieces of glass as a souvenir. It was a catastrophe. They are not nice memories," she said.

"We have to rebuild it, it's ugly," the retiree said, "but what a magnificent idea" to give the building to the Americans, she remarked bitterly.

"They are not really our friends. I wouldn't give it to them. If we have to give it away, we should give it to Russia."

 

- Memory of NATO bombings -

 

The memory of NATO's bombings are everywhere in Serbia and a quarter of a century later, resentment towards the alliance is still strong amongst locals.

The official death toll from the 11 weeks of bombardments has never been confirmed.

The figures range from 500 dead, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch, to 2,500, according to Serbian officials.

"The memory of the 1990s is unpleasant," said Zoran Stosic, 83, "but we have to leave these buildings as they are, because they remind us of those unpleasant times. It's not just the beautiful things that we should remember."

For him, rather than a luxury hotel, it should be a place of remembrance.

"We should preserve these buildings, conserve them, and turn them into a museum. To remind us the importance of peace, that these things should not happen again."


AFP


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