Cohen receives warm welcome from Kosovar Albanians
June 19, 1999
UROSEVAC, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Shuttling around towns in eastern Kosovo on Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen was warmly greeted by jubilant Kosovar Albanians.
Residents of Urosevac chanted "USA, USA," and "Cohen, Cohen," upon his arrival, and one man startled the defense secretary by giving him an emotional hug.
Another man in nearby Gnjilane wore a shirt reading "NATO air," a tribute to the alliance for its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Many Kosovar Albanians consider the airstrikes, which ended in early June, a boost to the cause of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Cohen, the first Clinton administration official to visit Kosovo since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24, also visited with U.S. troops in the province and thanked them for their role in the NATO-led peacekeeping force.
"Now that you're here, a lot of people are glad. They know you are going to be tough and fair," Cohen told a company of Marines in Gnjilane.
They were some of 3,300 U.S. troops deployed in the eastern sector of Kosovo. A total of 7,000 U.S. troops should arrive by next month, part of a total peacekeeping force -- known as KFOR -- that is expected to number 50,000.
The KFOR troops, responsible for enforcing the implementation of the peace agreement, are also charged with preventing further ethnic clashes. They have their work cut out for them, as sporadic violence continued to plague the province.
In Gnjilane, an ethnic Albanian was injured Saturday by gunfire, which he said came from a Serb sniper shouting pro-Serbian slogans.
Yet many of the attacks were directed against Serbs. A hail of gunfire hit a vehicle with Serbians inside.
"We were just driving. I can't believe he's dead," said a friend of a fatally wounded man.
The town's only hospital remains deserted, with ethnic Albanians still afraid to enter it after Yugoslav forces "ethnically cleansed" it weeks ago. Serb doctors, meanwhile, say they fear reprisals from the KLA. Marines discovered a hidden cache of automatic weapons in the building.
"They will be sharing a responsibility to help keep the peace, and that should send a message of assurance to those (Serbs) who are fearful that there will be retribution," he said.
Roughly 3,500 Russian troops will be integrated into the KFOR mission, Cohen said.
Cohen had a bird's-eye view of destruction in ethnic Albanian villages as he shuttled around the province. Burned out houses contrasted with rolling green pastures.
Accompanied by NATO's top military commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, Cohen flew over a suspected mass grave site in southeastern Kosovo before returning to Macedonia for a trip to a refugee camp.
Before flying to the Balkans, Cohen visited American air crews at Aviano air base in Italy, where much of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia originated.
Correspondent Matthew Chance and Reuters contributed to this report.
Agreement reached on Russian role in Kosovo force
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