Kosovo marks ‘20 years free’ with Clinton visit

Pristina: Kosovo embraced former US president Bill Clinton on Wednesday as it thanked the West for the Nato intervention 20 years ago that ended its separatist war with Serbia and cleared a path for independence.
“Welcome home,” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci told Clinton, who is beloved there for sending US jets to join the 1999 air strikes against the regime of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
June 12, 1999, the day when Nato entered Kosovo after its three-month assault on Serb forces, marks the moment Belgrade effectively lost control of its former province.
It was the end of a brutal conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels that had claimed 13,000 lives, mostly Kosovo Albanians, in the final war of Yugoslavia’s collapse.
“I love this country, and it will always be one of the great honours of my life to have stood with you against ethnic cleansing and for freedom,” Clinton told hundreds gathered in the centre of Pristina — where he already has a statue and boulevard in his name.
While saying that Kosovo still had some way to go in terms of building a “truly inclusive nation,” he added: “Relax, no one has solved that yet.”
On the 20-year anniversary, Kosovo leaders have been toasting to its liberation, with tributes on social media this week signed with the hashtag #Kosovo20YearsFree.
Adnan Shuki, a 67-year-old who joined the crowd in Pristina waving Kosovo and US flags, recalled June 12 as “the happiest day in the history of Kosovo Albanians”. “We’d been away from home, bombed, mistreated, wasting years without work,” he said.
Belgrade still refuses to officially accept the independence its former province declared in 2008, undercutting Kosovo’s efforts to gain global recognition.
While Kosovo has the backing of the US and most of the West, Russia and China also reject its statehood, effectively shutting it out of the UN.
Wednesday’s ceremonies will also see the unveiling of a new bust of Madeleine Albright, who was US Secretary of State at the time and spoke during the ceremony. — AFP