May 2, 2000Clark ends US European Command job
STUTTGART, Germany (AP) -- Gen. Wesley Clark ended his tenure as head of the U.S. European Command at a ceremony Tuesday, where Defense Secretary William Cohen praised him for helping rid Kosovo of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "thugs."
Clark, who plans to retire soon, handed over the EUCOM command flag to his successor, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston. Ralston will also take over Clark's position as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander of Europe in a ceremony Wednesday in Belgium. Clark has held both posts since July 1997.
"A year ago today, Serbian forces were on a rampage and nearly a million Kosovars had fled, threatening to overwhelm neighboring countries," Cohen said before the crowd of about 1,200 that included soldiers from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.
"But because you responded, today Milosevic's thugs are out of Kosovo, the vast majority of refugees have returned, and neighboring nations are joining in efforts to rebuild that ravaged land," Cohen told Clark.
Clark commanded NATO during the 78-day air war against Yugoslav forces that ended in June, forcing them to leave Kosovo and allow a NATO-led peacekeeping mission.
Tensions remain high between ethnic Albanians -- who make up more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo -- and the approximately 100,000 Serbs who are still there, with ethnically motivated attacks and killings still occurring regularly.
But Clark, who paid a farewell visit to the tense northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica and met with radical Serb leaders Monday, was cheered in Kosovo's capital of Pristina by ethnic Albanians.
Even while some people may be tempted to have a dark view of the remaining challenges in Kosovo, Cohen said no one should doubt the service and success attained under Clark's leadership.
Tuesday's ceremony included a 21-gun salute and fly-over by four A-10 Thunderbolt jets. Clark thanked the soldiers and their families for their support during his tenure.