Czech President Milos Zeman has apologized over the 1999 NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia, in which his country took part while he was prime minister.
The 78-day U.S.-led bombing campaign forced Serbian troops out of Kosovo, ending a bloody two-year war of the southern province’s independence.
“I would like to use this opportunity to apologize for the bombing of former Yugoslavia,” Zeman said on May 18 during a visit to Prague by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
The Czech Republic “desperately” sought partners within the alliance to object to the campaign, but ultimately failed, the 76-year-old Zeman said.
“It was lack of courage,” he added. “With this plea of forgiveness, I resolved my long-standing trauma, because remorse is liberating.”
Vucic said Serbians will “always be grateful” to Zeman because “what he said about the bombing has never been said before.”
Zeman served as prime minister between 1998 and 2002 before taking over as president in 2013. He has favored friendly ties with Russia for years.
The NATO military intervention is hailed in Kosovo as crucial in ending the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict that left more than 10,000 people dead.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Belgrade does not recognize this.
Most EU nations and the United States have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but not by Serbia’s allies Russia and China.