NORFOLK NAVAL BASE, Va. (AP) _ President Bill Clinton's ever-changing pronunciation of the word Kosovo may seem irrelevant to Americans, but it is a loaded issue in the Balkans.

During a speech here about the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, Clinton referred 21 times to the troubled province in Serbia, the main Yugoslav state, where Serb security forces have forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes.

Clinton on Thursday adopted the Serb pronunciation of the province's name, with the ``oh'' sound at the end. That's officially correct because Kosovo formally is a part of Serbia, and the U.S. government says it wants the province to remain part of Serbia, albeit with much more autonomy.

But in the past, Clinton has usually opted for the Albanian ``Kosova'' version of the province's name, leading many Serb and Albanian nationalists to conclude he was covertly signaling his support for the Albanian demand for the province's independence.

``There's no intent behind the pronunciation,'' replied an exasperated White House official when asked about the change. ``The president wasn't trying to send a message to anyone through it,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.