U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has thanked Macedonia for supporting the U.S. campaign in Iraq and has praised the Balkan country for its own on-going democratic and defense reforms.
Mr. Rumsfeld was in Macedonia Monday morning, on a brief stopover between his visit Sunday to coalition troops in Iraq and a trip to Romania to meet with President Ion Iliescu and attend a Wednesday meeting of NATO defense ministers.
Mr. Rumsfeld helped award medals of valor to several Macedonian soldiers who had served in Iraq, thanking them for the courage they displayed there. Macedonia has sent about 30 soldiers to Iraq.
In remarks, Mr. Rumsfeld encouraged the Macedonian people to support the country's recent reforms and a November 7 reform referendum that he said will help Macedonia to gain membership in NATO.
The plan being considered under the referendum would redraw municipal boundaries and give ethnic Albanians more power in areas where they make up at least 20 percent of the population.