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Clinton, Heading for Bosnia, Seeks Support for U.S. Peacekeepers

January 13, 1996

AVIANO, Italy (AP) _ At the staging field for NATO air operations, President Clinton praised U.S. troops who are keeping the peace in Bosnia and told them early Saturday, ``You are heroes for peace.″

``What you and our allies are doing here and in Bosnia is the difference between a war that resumes and a peace that takes hold,″ Clinton told several hundred troops gathered in an airport hangar before dawn to welcome the commander-in-chief to Europe.

Given the early hour, Clinton joked, ``I may be more pleased to see you than you are to see me.″

Many of the soldiers held their children aloft on their soldiers to see the president, who wore a brown jacket bearing the 31st fighter wing emblem.

Aviano was the first stop in a 19-hour swing that takes Clinton to Tuzla, the headquarters of American forces in Bosnia. He’ll also visit Taszar, Hungary, the gateway for support equipment and forces going into the former Yugoslavia, and Zagreb, Croatia, before turning home early Sunday.

Despite congressional opposition to sending troops to Bosnia, a 10-member bipartisan congressional delegation accompanied Clinton.

Clinton acknowledged the soldiers’ sacrifices. ``You are heroes for peace,″ he said. ``Our nation is very proud of you.″

Earlier, Clinton addressed the people of Bosnia in a videotaped message. He acknowledged the lingering bitterness after nearly four years of savage ethnic warfare and said, ``After so many lives lost and futures destroyed, I know that rebuilding a sense of community and trust may be the very hardest task you face.″

In Sarajevo, Zlatan Pasic, a 32-year-old salesman, watched Clinton’s speech on the main evening television news broadcast. ``If the people here will listen to somebody it will definitely be him,″ he said. ``It is a fine and encouraging speech.″

But Nijaz Gracic, a 33-year-old customs worker who was with Pasic, was more skeptical. ``I don’t think that he actually cares about us, he just needs more votes to be elected again,″ he said. ``If he really cared, the tragedy this country has gone through would have ended ages ago.″

Before he left, Clinton spoke at a truck assembly plant in Nashville and said the risky mission of the 20,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops is a part of America’s unavoidable role of standing up for peace, democracy and freedom around the world.

With the end of the Cold War, ``it is tempting for us to say, `Boy, we ought to just shut down our defense and come home and hope nothing bad happens,‴ Clinton said. ``But the truth is ... we are tied in with the rest of the world today whether we like it or not.″

``And we have a profound interest in seeing the United States be the world’s leading source of energy for peace and freedom and democracy,″ he said. ``It helps us economically and it helps us to be more secure.″

Because of security concerns, the exact timing and location of Clinton’s stops were being kept secret. He will spend all day Saturday hopscotching from place to place, returning to Washington early Sunday.

In his address to the people of Bosnia, the president said the U.S. troops were part of an international force ``to help safeguard the peace so many of you have wanted for so long.

``Their mission is to supervise the withdrawal of your armies behind the agreed separation line; to help assure that war does not break out again; to create a more secure climate throughout Bosnia so that you can rebuild your towns and roads, your factories and shops, your parks and playgrounds.″

Clinton said the greatest struggle was ``not among Muslims and Serbs and Croats; it is between those who embrace peace and those who reject it, those who look to the future and those who are blinded by the past, those who open their arms and those who still clench their fists.″

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