CEOL - Kosovo Awaits Clinton With Mixed Feelings

UROSEVAC, Yugoslavia, Nov 23, 1999 -- (Reuters) When U.S. President Bill Clinton visits Kosovo on Tuesday, he can expect a warm welcome from ethnic Albanians and their thanks for the NATO air strikes that ended their suffering at the hands of Serb forces.

But Serbs will be looking for a sign the United States is prepared to be as tough with Albanians wreaking revenge on Serb civilians in the province as it was on Serb repression.

Clinton is to speak at a sports center on the edge of Urosevac but is not scheduled to see much of the southeastern town, known as Ferizaj in Albanian, before going on to have Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops at a huge base nearby.

About 100,000 people live in Urosevac and its surrounding area, which includes the giant Camp Bondsteel, the largest base built by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War.

Nazir Qurri, an elderly ethnic Albanian man in the main street of Urosevac, said on Monday: "His visit will make us very happy. He's helped us a lot and I hope he'll also help us in the future."

"He's worked a lot for the good of the Albanian people and we appreciate that very much," said Basri Goxha, a 23-year-old drinking coffee in a cafe who said he was a former fighter with the Albanians' Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla group.

Serbs hope for signal

U.S. forces have already sealed off the sports center. The Albanian flag of a black double-headed eagle on a scarlet background flutters alongside the Stars and Stripes outside.

There were no Urosevac Serbs on the main street to ask about the visit. A recent report by international agencies says the vast majority have fled because of systematic threats to their security. Only 28 mainly elderly people remain, it says.

The exodus from Urosevac is typical of the phenomenon across Kosovo, which has seen more than 100,000 Serbs depart since the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force arrived in June after the end of NATO's air campaign that started on March 24.

Serbs now account for around five percent of Kosovo's population. Yet they have been the victims of at least 36 percent of the 380-odd murders committed in the five months since KFOR arrived, according to the peacekeepers' own figures.

A Serb view on the presidential trip came from the monastery in Gracanica, a town south of the Kosovo capital Pristina and one of the few where Serbs form the majority.

"We see this as a good opportunity for the United States to express exactly what is their policy about Kosovo," said Father Sava, press secretary to Bishop Artemije, a senior Orthodox churchman expected to meet Clinton on Tuesday.

Sava, who also says the number of Serbs kidnapped and murdered is much higher than KFOR admits, hopes Clinton will make clear that the Serbs who have fled have as much right to return as the Albanians forced out earlier this year.

"We expect from the political circles in the West to make political pressure on Kosovo Albanian leaders who are... in their speech supporting the ideas of multi-ethnic society. But in their actions, they do not do anything," he added.

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