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Mercy flights to snowbound villages

Two US Army Black Hawk helicopters have dropped food, medicine and livestock feed to people stranded in the mountains of Montenegro by up to three metres of snow.

The mission helped patch up relations for a country where American military intervention has not always been welcomed.

That was because the last time citizens had seen US military aircraft flying overhead in 1999, they were bombing sections of their country, then known as Yugoslavia.

"The Americans are good people," said Darko Kukovic as he sat in one of the Black Hawks, guiding its pilots to the village of Starce in central Montenegro, where his elderly parents have been stranded by the snow for two months. "We should forget about the past and focus on the future. My parents would starve or freeze to death without their help."

The delivery of aid, which began on Wednesday, was going to the remote villages hit by Montenegro's heaviest snowfall in 60 years. On February 13, Montenegro declared a state of emergency as four people died and hundreds were being evacuated from the snowed in villages. The only way to reach the mountainous areas was via aircraft, so Nato sent in helicopters loaded with supplies.

Americans, Croats, Slovenes and Greeks flew in aboard the choppers in the first such Nato mission in Montenegro since it split from Serbia in 2006.

Given what had happened during the violent breakup of Serb-led Yugoslavia in the 1990s, not everyone was happy about the rescue effort. The American presence triggered anger among Serb nationalists in Montenegro who said the 72-day US-led air war in Yugoslavia must not be forgotten.

However, public opinion polls have indicated that a majority of Montenegrins now want to join the Western military alliance and leave the past behind.

Montenegro has applied to join Nato, and the government hopes it will be granted membership when the alliance meets in Chicago in May. Toward that end, Montenegro's tiny army has sent an infantry platoon to join the US-led forces in Afghanistan, along with staff officers and military police trainers.

Montenegro is next in line to join the 28-nation alliance, but Nato officials have said the country has not yet met all the technical requirements for membership.


From Belfast Telegraph