DANICA KIRKANato chief Robertson strolls around Kosovo capital
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (May 31, 2000) - Shopkeeper Fatima Rama ran out of her grocery store to hand a chocolate bar to NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, who strolled down Kosovo's central shopping street Wednesday.
Once the crowd of soldiers, reporters and onlookers had passed, she and her friends gasped over the excitement, but had to ask an outsider the name of the visitor in the blue suit.
"I just know he is one of the people who saved Kosovo," Rama, 32, said.
The walking tour of Pristina allowed Robertson to see for himself what people thought about the alliance nearly one year after its 78-day bombing campaign ended Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's grip on the province.
Many had no trouble recognizing Robertson, cheering, clapping and chanting "NATO!"
Linda Gashi, who held her 3-year-old son, Gramos, on her arm, could hardly believe her good fortune, bumping into Robertson on a street corner near the U.N. offices. Robertson gave Gramos a tiny sky-blue NATO pin.
"Because of (Roberston), he will live in a free country," Gashi said as she gave her son a hug.
But Robertson traveled to Kosovo to hammer home the point that leaders must step forward to halt sporadic acts of violence that have shattered a veneer of peace in the troubled province.
"I'm ... here to deliver a blunt message to the people of Kosovo - that the violence has to be reduced or they'll lose the sympathy of the international community," he said.
Robertson also traveled to the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, a community he bypassed in a March trip, reportedly because of security concerns. He met with Serb and Albanian leaders, but did not venture into the northern, predominantly Serb part of the city.
He insisted that progress had been made, despite the presence of troublemakers who continue to monitor traffic on the bridges linking the ethnic Albanian southern part of the city to the Serb north. Economic measures and other incentives would be used to break down the walls between the communities, he said.
"We're not going to tolerate the river Ibar becoming another Berlin wall," he said. "We're not in here, the powerful military alliance as we may be, to impose solutions. We have to work, with the people of different communities, who themselves have got to understand that if they want a better life they've got to work for that better life themselves."
Earlier in the day, Robertson offered support to the ethnic Albanian chief of Kosovo's new civil defense unit, pledging to help the organization in efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in the province.
Robertson praised the Kosovo Protection Corps for its work throughout Kosovo, which has included repairing roads, bridges and other reconstruction projects.
The corps has struggled with funding problems and criticism from Kosovo's Serbs, who consider it as nothing more than the old ethnic Albanian rebel army under a new name.