Kosovo hails Bill Clinton 20 years after Nato drove out Serbian forces

Belgrade, Russia and China still denounce West’s ‘humanitarian intervention’

Former US president Bill Clinton delivers a speech during the 20th anniversary of the deployment of Nato troops in Kosovo, in Pristina on Thursday. Photograph: Florion Goga/Reuters

Former US president Bill Clinton delivers a speech during the 20th anniversary of the deployment of Nato troops in Kosovo, in Pristina on Thursday. Photograph: Florion Goga/Reuters

 

Former US president Bill Clinton was Kosovo’s chief guest of honour on Wednesday as it marked 20 years since Nato drove out Belgrade’s forces and helped put the then Serbian province on the path to independence.

Mr Clinton was a key advocate for the 78-day Nato bombing campaign of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia that forced it to end its bloody crackdown on Kosovo, and for the deployment of Nato troops that began on June 12th, 1999.

A United Nations mission subsequently ran mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo until 2008, when it declared independence in a move that has been recognised by 115 countries, including Ireland, but not by Serbia, Russia, China or five EU members.

“It has been my life’s biggest honour to have stood with you against ethnic cleansing and for freedom,” Mr Clinton told a crowd of several thousand people in the centre of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

“Never forget, when you think of the challenges ahead of you – and I say that to your existing leaders – you have already done something amazing. You have given a whole generation the first 20 years of their life in peace,” he said.

“A new form of courage and patience is needed to build the future,” he added.

10,000 killed

More than 10,000 people were killed and one million displaced – most of them civilians from Kosovo’s 90 per cent ethnic Albanian majority – when Serb forces tried to suppress an uprising by independence-seeking rebels.

Having failed to prevent the Serb genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995, Nato called its bombing of Serbia to halt fighting in Kosovo a “humanitarian intervention”, but it was denounced as aggression by Belgrade, Russia and China.

A boy looks on during the 20th anniversary of the deployment of Nato Troops in Kosovo, in Pristina on Thursday. Photograph: Florion Goga/Reuters
A boy looks on during the 20th anniversary of the deployment of Nato Troops in Kosovo, in Pristina on Thursday. Photograph: Florion Goga/Reuters

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic this week described the Nato operation as “the 19 most powerful countries attacking a small country committed to freedom”.

“They have caused us enormous damage from which we are still recovering,” added Mr Vucic, who was an ultra-nationalist ally of Mr Milosevic but now portrays himself as a conservative who wants Serbia to join the EU while remaining close to Moscow and Beijing.

EU-brokered talks to normalise relations between the Balkan neighbours are now at an impasse, and Belgrade is angry over Kosovo’s imposition of a 100 per cent tariff on imports from Serbia, and a police operation in northern Kosovo last month that led to arrests and injuries among ethnic Serbs in the area.

“If this dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is not resolved there will be no chance whatsoever for Serbia and Kosovo to become members of the EU,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said this week.

“We do not want to import instability into the union, we want to export stability,” he added.

Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, awarded the country’s order of freedom medal to Mr Clinton and to Madeleine Albright, who was US secretary of state in 1999.

The wartime rebel commander tweeted that Ms Albright “represented the best about world’s diplomacy – but also humanity: helping people in need but also stopping criminals in their evil deeds. Kosovo will eternally be thankful.”