Clinton Urges Progress In Kosovo-Serb Talks

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On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Kosovo, where her husband is a hero for stopping an ethnic cleansing campaign in the 1990s. Clinton wants the Serbs and Kosovars to move their relations forward, now that the International Court of Justice has ruled Kosovo's declaration of independence to be legal. But while supporting Kosovo's independence from Serbia, Clinton is also anxious to stress that the Serb minority in Kosovo must be protected.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Kosovo, a newly independent state where her husband is a hero. When Bill Clinton was president, NATO launched airstrikes against Serbia to end an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo Albanians. The U.S. has been a champion of Kosovo's independence ever since. But Hillary Clinton's visit was aimed at trying to get Serbia and Kosovo talking again.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports from Kosovo.

MICHELE KELEMEN: As the secretary drove through downtown Pristina, it was hard for her to miss the cheering crowd - some waving thank-you-Clinton-family posters. It was also hard for her to miss the 10-foot statue of her husband, Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton didn't miss her chance to pose for pictures there, shake hands with fans and stop by a store named in her honor.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. HILLARY CLINTON (Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State): Yeah, very nice. Then, look at the store with my name.

Unidentified Female: Which one is that?

Ms. CLINTON: Oh, the statue, the statue, but I'm very proud of the store too.

KELEMEN: Kosovo declared independence from Serbia two years ago. And speaking alongside Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, Clinton said the U.S. has been a proud partner of Kosovo's long-fought journey.

Ms. CLINTON: We are impressed by all that you have achieved in the past few years. So my being here is a real vote of confidence, Mr. Prime Minister, in what you are doing and in the future that you are attempting to chart a new future not only for Kosovo but for the region.

KELEMEN: Kosovo's prime minister was all smiles in the press conference, and through an interpreter, he called for a new chapter in relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

Prime Minister HASHIM THACI (Kosovo): (Through Translator) It's time to close the more than one-century long conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. The time is to cooperate and to look towards the future. Kosovo is ready for this.

KELEMEN: Yesterday, in Belgrade, Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, made clear that he wants to close the dark chapters of the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s in Bosnia and Croatia, but recognizing Kosovo is not something Serbia is willing to do. Still, he said that he's ready to talk. And Secretary Clinton said the two sides should focus on practical matters.

Ms. CLINTON: Some matters, like the status, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo, are not up for discussion. But the leaders of both countries must approach the dialogue in good faith and with respect for each other's concerns.

KELEMEN: During her one-day stay in Kosovo, Clinton did make a point of visiting with ethnic Serbs. She met with mayors of Serb towns and toured an important religious site, the Gracanica Monastery.

Ms. CLINTON: It's a beautiful cross.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. CLINTON: What is the meaning of...

KELEMEN: Surrounded by icons in the Serb Orthodox holy site, she learned not just about the ancient history but the latest concerns from a local religious leader, Bishop Teodosije. He said that ethnic Serbs have left in large numbers, and he claimed that the government in Pristina is not encouraging Serbs to return.

Bishop TEODOSIJE SIBALIC (Vicar of the Diocese of Ras and Prizren): Because we also need our flock, obviously, in order for these sanctuaries to be alive again.

Ms. CLINTON: Well, we hope to work with you on these important issues.

Bishop SIBALIC: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: Many people lined the streets in the Serb municipality, but unlike in downtown Pristina, the onlookers were not chanting Clinton's name. Several children did try to get her attention, though, holding up signs saying: Our rights are only on paper, and I want a lucky childhood.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News in Kosovo.

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