BELGRADE: A US pilot and the Serb officer who downed his plane during a 1999 Nato air war barely hid their tears as they reunited in Belgrade this week, coinciding with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Serbia.

Dale Zelko, a former US air force pilot whose F-117 stealth plane was shot down by ex-Serbian army officer Zoltan Dani on March 27, 1999, attended the Belgrade opening of the documentary “Second Meeting”, a 90-minute story on how the former foes became close friends.

“I am sorry for your suffering and sorrow, loss and anguish.... I am sorry for the war,” said Zelko in a trembling voice after the screening.

Tearful and visibly shaken, Zelko said he was “so grateful and thankful...

to be on this journey with the Dani family”. Dani, also visibly touched, said the film should be seen as “a message of peace”.

“War is not between normal, average people, it is between the governments.... The politicians are the ones who decide this,” Zelko said, greeted by a standing ovation in the packed Serbian cinema.

Zelko said he was aware that Clinton was coming to Belgrade and told journalists his message would be: “Let’s not ever do this war again, let’s do everything possible to work out any sort of problems or differences with mutual respect and admiration for each other”.

The shooting down of the F-117 in Budjanovci, near Belgrade, by Dani’s anti-aircraft missile battery was one of the most surprising military achievements by the poorly equipped Serbian army during the 78-day Nato bombing campaign launched to end the regime’s repression of independence-seeking Kosovo.

It was the only time an F-117, touted as invisible to radar, was ever lost in combat.

Zelko was rescued by a Nato helicopter and transferred back to the alliance base in Italy before returning to the United States.—AFP


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