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First Lady Tours Macedonia Camp

May 14, 1999

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ Touched by the plight of Kosovo Albanians, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that America and the NATO allies will not let ``the evil″ perpetrated by Slobodan Milosevic prevent them from returning home.

Hundreds of smiling refugee children crowded the fence at the Stenkovec camp as the first lady, wearing a navy blue pantsuit, white blouse and low heels, walked into the tent city accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and his wife.

Mrs. Clinton was given a UNICEF cap by a boy who later told reporters he had been at the camp for two weeks after Serb police drove his family from Urosevac, telling his father they would kill the children if the family did not leave the southern Kosovo town.

Eleven-year-old Fatos Rexhep said his father died of a heart attack en route to safety in Macedonia.

Another refugee, 42-year-old Fetie Pronaj, told Mrs. Clinton that she had lost contact with her three children and husband, a Kosovo Liberation Army fighter, three weeks ago.

``Mrs. Clinton promised I would be with my family very soon,″ Pronaj said.

In remarks to aid workers, Mrs. Clinton stressed that the United States would not abandon its efforts to get the refugees home _ some 780,000 ethnic Albanian refugees have been driven from Kosovo by Serb forces since March.

``I want to send a message to the refugees that we do not intend to let the evil which Milosevic perpetrated against these people keep them away from their homeland and their homes,″ she said.

``That is a very basic, fundamental commitment that is shared not only by those in the U.S. who are committed to this effort but our allies as well.″

The huge Stenkovec camp, with some 23,000 refugees, is the main tent city were Kosovo Albanians with relatives in the United States are screened for possible transport to America.

Nearly one-third of the ethnic Albanian refugees who fled or have been expelled by Serb forces from Kosovo, a neighboring province of Yugoslavia’s Serb republic, are in Macedonia. Most are in Albania, with lesser numbers in Bosnia and elsewhere.

President Clinton said his wife’s mission is ``to clarify our compassion and concern for the predominantly Muslim Kosovar Albanians who’ve been driven out of their homes.″

In the Stenkovec camp, refugees said they’d been told that somebody famous was coming to visit, and only later read in newspapers that it would be Mrs. Clinton.

In the overcrowded camp, many refugees complained that they were not allowed near Mrs. Clinton by security guards.

``I just wanted to see what she looked like and say hello,″ said one disappointed young boy.

There have been signs of growing tensions in the overcrowded tent city. On Monday, refugees staged a mass protest complaining about poor conditions and alleged harassment by Slav Macedonian police officers.

The first lady, who stopped over in Naples, Italy, en route to Macedonia, was welcomed at Skopje airport’s by Nada Gligorova, wife of President Kiro Gligorov, government officials and Hill, a key figure in failed negotiations with Milosevic to resolve the Kosovo conflict short of NATO military force.

She arrived in a U.S. Air Force C-130 transport plane, with an honor guard behind in a Black Hawk helicopter.

After leaving the Stenkovec camp, Mrs. Clinton visited a 16th-century Orthodox Church and admired its frescoes and icons before meeting with local Macedonian aid agencies who were the first to help the refugees at the beginning of the crisis.

Mrs. Clinton flew here after visiting Belfast, Northern Ireland, and London, where she focused on the role of women and children, including addressing a children’s rights conference in the British capital.

Mrs. Clinton will return to Washington from Macedonia.

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