CEOL - Clinton Meets Kosovo Serb Representatives

PRISTINA, Nov 24, 1999 -- (Reuters) Kosovo Serb representatives said they were encouraged by talks with visiting U.S. President Bill Clinton on Tuesday but wished he had taken a tougher line with ethnic Albanian leaders.

For their part, Albanians thanked Clinton for the leading U.S. role in this year's NATO bombing campaign which drove Serb forces out of Kosovo. International officials running the territory also took heart from the president's visit.

"We had a very constructive meeting and conversation with President Clinton," said Father Sava, press secretary to Bishop Artemije, a senior Serbian Orthodox churchman who also heads a council of Serb representatives from different parts of Kosovo.

Sava, who attended Clinton's meeting with local political leaders at Pristina airport, said the Serbs had stressed their continuing concern at the attacks on members of their community, carried out by Albanians angry at years of Serb repression.

They also highlighted attacks on Serbian churches and the exodus of Serbs, estimated at more than 100,000, who have fled since the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force arrived in June.

"The president said that the churches must be rebuilt, the Serb refugees must be brought back, that we all have to work in finding the missing and kidnapped people," Sava said.

But he added: "We would have been much more pleased if the political support and financing were conditional on more active involvement of Albanian leaders in preventing violence."

Officials at Kosovo's United Nations-led administration stress they do not believe the Albanian political leaders are organizing the attacks, but agree that they could do more to help track down the culprits and defuse tensions.

Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla group and now prime minister of a self-proclaimed provisional government, said both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had stressed the need for tolerance.

Veton Surroi, an independent politician and newspaper editor who also took part in the talks, said Clinton had made clear he wanted local people to take responsibility for their homeland.

"One of the main messages from President Clinton today was that the international community is very much interested in helping Kosovars but can help them only if they help themselves," Surroi told reporters.

The U.N. mission in Kosovo (UMNIK), which has been accused of being too slow to rebuild the basics of Kosovo society in several recent international press articles, was encouraged by the president's visit, mission chief Bernard Kouchner said.

"He was really supportive of the UNMIK and KFOR missions," Kouchner said after meeting Clinton.

"We are a bit fed up with criticism," Kouchner said. "In five months we have achieved more than five years in Bosnia."

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