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Clinton Vows Obama Administration Support for Kosovo

Secretary of State Clinton said Thursday the Obama administration will continue its two predecessors' support for Kosovo independence. She met with the new Balkan state's President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

The event here underlined the continuity of U.S. support for Kosovo through three administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton backed the NATO air campaign that drove Serb forces out of Kosovo in 1999.

The Bush administration helped lead the political process that led to the independence declaration of the majority-ethnic Albanian former Serb province a year ago.

Now, the Obama administration is committing to helping the fledgling Balkan state gain further international aid and recognition.

With the two Kosovar leaders beside her, Secretary Clinton said support in Washington for the new country is bipartisan, and that the United States is encouraging countries around the world to join the list of 55 nations that have recognized Kosovo's independence.

She said acceptance of the new state has been enhanced by the way the two leaders have run the country over the past year.

"I admire the way the president and the prime minister have proceeded in dealing with the remaining challenges posed with territorial integrity on your borders, internally in dealing with your neighbors particularly Serbia," said Hillary Clinton. "I think that the very calm and reasoned, careful approach has earned Kosovo at lot of appreciation and admiration throughout Europe and beyond."

Clinton said the progress of Kosovo from a conflict zone 10 years ago has been "miraculous" by any fair measure, and a tribute to both the leadership and people of the new country, which she said is evolving into a multi-ethnic democracy.

For his part, President Sejdiu stressed Kosovo's hopes for eventual membership in NATO and the European Union and said he expects the country to join the World Bank and International Monetary Funds in the very near future.

Under questioning, the Kosovar president declined direct criticism of the decision Thursday by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague to acquit former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic of crimes against humanity in the Kosovo conflict.

Mr. Sejdiu said his government retains "full trust" in the court. But heard through an interpreter, he said enormous crimes against humanity took place in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia during the 1990's, and that his country is still haunted by cases of Kosovars who went missing during the conflict.

"Unfortunately, parallel to the very high number of victims that Kosovo suffered as a result of the war, there is also a very high number of people - over 2,000 people - that are still missing in Kosovo, and their families know nothing of their whereabouts," said Fatmir Sejdiu. "For the families of those who lost their loved ones and who are missing their loved ones, the only spiritual thing that would help them to feel better would be justice for those who committed the crimes."

The Hague tribunal did convict five co-defendants of the former Serbian president of war crimes and sentenced the former Belgrade government and military officials to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years.

Serbia, and its traditional ally Russia, have refused to recognize Kosovo independence.