Albright visits refugees, greets troops

For secretary of state, an opportunity to savor policy vindication

June 12, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who had made the return of Kosovar Albanian refugees the major mission of the conflict with Yugoslavia, met them face to face for the first time yesterday.

She hugged some, shook hands and, as she passed along a rope line that held back exuberant crowds, shouted, "You'll be going home!"

When her trip here was planned, it was far from clear that the war that Albright had pressed for would be over. For her, the half-hour visit was the vindication that top officials whose policy has been questioned and even skewered savor far beyond the moment.

"We have fought this war so that you, the refugees, could go home," she told a crowd of barefoot children and roughly dressed men and women who had struggled over the border to escape the Serbs.

Now she reassured them. "Milosevic and the Serbs have lost control over Kosovo," Albright said. "You will go home and be able to live a decent normal life and do it your way."

Six miles outside this capital, the Stenkovac 1 camp, run by Catholic Relief Services and host to 20,000 refugees, has been the most popular stopping point for politicians and other figures since it was set up in the days after the airstrikes began.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was here last month, along with Richard Gere, the movie actor; Elie Wiesel, the writer, and Virginia Sen. John W. Warner.

A World War II refugee herself, and then a refugee from a communist regime in her native Czechoslovakia, Albright seemed to find empathy with the families who are living in tents, their belongings scattered on the ground. As she walked around the area, families told her of their wish to return home as quickly as possible.

At one point, she sat on a plastic lawn chair in a tent with an ethnic Albanian mother and urged her to be careful as she returned to Kosovo.

The Yugoslavs have planted mines, Albright said, and families should be patient and take their time until the international security force has cleared the mines. She has cautioned that winter might fall before all the refugees have safely returned to their homes and that preparations need to be made to winterize their tents.

In another tent, Albright heard about the desire for revenge against the Serbs that many ethnic Albanians say they feel. "The Serbian people are troublemakers," Tahir Shelova, 39, said. "They must pay for this."

Albright is urging Albanians and Serbs not to take vengeance, to live together in a multiethnic Kosovo.

Albright also addressed several hundred American troops yesterday, another of her favorite constituencies during the war.

Albright told the troops, part of the advance guard preparing to enter Kosovo, that they were embarking on a distinctive mission. "This is a part of the world," she said, "where World War I started, a lot of World War II was fought, and you are bringing in a new history, a history where the people of Kosovo will be able to go home in freedom in accord with the way they want to live."

The mission, she added, will be uplifting. "I believe this is what America is good at," Albright said, "helping other countries. People will greet you with open arms."

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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