Subscribe for 17¢ / day

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia (AP) – Fifty miles from heavy fighting, President Bush urged ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to stop sneaking weapons across the border to Macedonia where rebel attacks threaten to spark a new Balkan civil war.

The president, in his first trip to the troubled region, also renewed his commitment on Tuesday to the NATO-led peacekeeping mission here in Kosovo. Even so, he told cheering U.S. troops he hoped to “hasten the day” they can return home.

‘Your diversity and close cooperation … in the cause of peace, is an example to the people of this region,” he told 2,000 flag-waving soldiers, some of them from other countries in the NATO-led force. “And it’s a rebuke to the ethnic intolerance and narrow nationalism that brought us here in the first place,”

More than 5,000 U.S. troops participate in the effort to preserve peace in Kosovo, a province of Serbia in Yugoslavia.

Their mission was expanded in June to ferret out arms being smuggled across the 100-mile border shared with Macedonia, where 500 more U.S. troops are based.

A supporter of the Macedonia government, Bush said, “We need you to keep patrolling the border and cutting off the arms flow” to rebels.

Hours after Bush spoke to the troops, ethnic Albanian rebels attacked an army barracks and surrounded four villages in Macedonia. At the same time, mobs in Skopje, the capital, attacked the U.S., British and German embassies. The protesters, who accused NATO of siding with the rebels, threw stones at the U.S. Embassy, breaking out windows, and smashed the main doors of the German and British embassies.

Macedonia closed the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

The militants launched their insurgency against government forces in February, demanding greater rights and recognition for minority ethnic Albanians who make up about one-third of Macedonia’s population of 2 million.

“Those here in Kosovo who support the insurgency in Macedonia are hurting the interest of ethnic Albanians throughout the region,” Bush said in a statement. “The people of Kosovo should focus on Kosovo” and build a peaceful, democratic society, he said.

The admonition was delivered on paper, not in person, a contrast to President Clinton’s visit to Kosovo in 1999. Clinton, addressing an audience of Kosovo citizens, urged them to seek peace.

On the question of U.S. involvement in the Balkans, Bush seemed to be seeking a balance between his allegiance to NATO and long-held skepticism about peacekeeping missions.

“NATO’s commitment to the peace of this region is enduring, but the stationing of our force here should not be indefinite,” he said in the statement.

Separately, he told the troops: “Our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining, when local democratically elected authorities can assume full responsibility and when NATO forces can go home.”

At the same time, he said “there is still a lot of work to do” before the region can be peaceful and democratic without the NATO-led force.

“We will not draw down our forces in Bosnia or Kosovo precipitously or unilaterally,” he said. “We came in together, and we will go out together.”

Bush and his foreign policy team first coined that phrase in the spring, after early consultations with allies revealed concern about the president’s commitment to southern Europe.

Those concerns gave way to anxiety over other shifts in U.S. policy under Bush, particularly his views on global warming and missile defense, both of which reversed Clinton policy.

Bush’s weeklong European trip, which ended with the Kosovo stop, showed those tensions.

He managed at an eight-nation summit in Genoa, Italy, to establish a framework for tough negotiation with Russia over missile defense. President Vladimir Putin agreed to link the talks to both nations’ desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

But he offered no new environmental proposals to key allies angered by his refusal to back an international climate change treaty. In private talks, presidents and prime ministers of other leading industrialized nations told Bush they would ratify the pact without him.

Ending his second overseas trip, Bush made a plea for peace.

“We must not allow difference to be a license to kill, and vulnerability an excuse to dominate,” Bush said in his speech.

Before cheering troops, he also signed into law a defense spending bill passed by Congress that includes $1.9 billion to boost pay, benefits and health care for American troops.

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.