BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) _ Praising Slovakia as a model of democracy for the region, Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to this former communist country Wednesday to meet its leaders and the reformers who helped put them in office.

Mrs. Clinton also underlined U.S. support for Slovakia and its continued move toward democracy and relayed President Clinton's wish to visit here next year, though no concrete plans have been announced.

After brief meetings with Slovakia's president and prime minister, Mrs. Clinton renewed her contacts with pro-democracy organizations she had met with during her first visit here three years ago. At the time, the activists were struggling to oust the authoritarian regime of former Premier Vladimir Meciar.

The first lady applauded the groups' success, noting the country is now a front-runner for European Union membership.

``I'm very confident that Slovakia will continue to lead the way,'' she said at a round-table discussion, ``and that Slovaks will see, as we see, the extraordinary contribution you have made, not only to your country, but to the future of democracy in Europe and around the world.''

She encouraged Slovaks to keep up their fight for human rights and lauded their success as a model for other countries in the region struggling to induce democratic reforms, such as Croatia, Belarus and Serbia.

Speaking after a meeting with Premier Mikulas Dzurinda, Mrs. Clinton encouraged his government to continue to improve the situation of Slovakia's minorities, a clear reference to the country's 600,000-strong Hungarian minority, as well as Roma _ or Gypsies.

She also paid tribute to Jewish Slovaks by visiting a 17th century Jewish cemetery and a retirement home where she met with Holocaust survivors. During World War II, some 60,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps from Slovakia. Today only about 5,000 Jews remain.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton visited Poland, where she met President Aleksander Kwasniewski in Warsaw. After Slovakia, Mrs. Clinton continues to Italy and Iceland, where she will take part in a conference on women and democracy.