against Yugoslavia Sunday, March 24, at a church service that honored about 3,000 Serbian soldiers, police and civilians who were killed during 78 days of heavy bombardments.
NATO has said that the strikes were necessary to force the military forces of then President Slobodan Milosevic to end their military crack-down against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo province.
After the first strike on March 24, 1999, Milosevic was eventually forced to withdraw his troops from the province, which is now administered by the United Nations. However during the church service current President Kostunica suggested that Milosevic, who has been indicted by the UN Tribunal in The Hague for war crimes, and NATO were "both to blame" for the air war.
"It is impossible to absolve from responsibility the Yugoslav authorities — who could, and should, have avoided the conflict with the most powerful military alliance in history," Kostunica admitted in a statement. "But it must not be forgotten who was pulling the trigger from the safe distance of 30,000 feet above the ground," Kostunica added.
He and other officials have also expressed concern about the many Serb Orthodox churches across Kosovo after NATO-led troops arrived in the province. An estimated 200,000 Serbs, many of them Orthodox believers, were forced to flee Kosovo under pressure from revenge seeking ethnic Albanians who themselves suffered under Milosevic.
About 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed by Serb forces and 3,000 are still missing, according to experts. An estimated 100,000 Serb civilians still live in Kosovo, mainly in isolated enclaves protected by peacekeepers. Most of them still have to be accompanied to churches and other places by the heavily armed soldiers of the NATO led K-FOR force.
Unlike most Serbs, the recently elected President of Kosovo celebrated the beginning of the NATO air campaign as "the first day of freedom" for Kosovo and its nearly two million ethnic Albanians. But elsewhere in Serbia thousands of Serbs, including many supporters of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, rallied in central Belgrade against NATO.
In addition there are also social tensions over the destruction of their country after a decade of wars. According to some estimates about 50 percent of the population is currently unemployed and millions of people live below the poverty line. However efforts to improve the situation have been overshadowed by a political struggle between Kostunica and Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
The tensions escalated earlier this month when Serbia’s deputy prime minister, Momcilo Perisic was one of two persons arrested by the Yugoslav military secret police on charges of spying for the United States. Both men were eventually released, leading to the resignation of Perisic. But analysts say it has further undermined political progress.
Several pastors and mission organizations see an urgent need to spread the Gospel of hope in Jesus Christ in this troubled country.