PRISTINA – Thousands of people gathered in the center of Pristina to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Kosovo War on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by former United States President Bill Clinton and several international dignitaries.
Clinton led the NATO international coalition that bombed what was Yugoslavia at the time to avoid an ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
He told a crowd in the Kosovan capital that “20 years ago the people of Kosovo won peace, while NATO won the conflict.”
The US “was together with Kosovo against ethnic cleansing and in favor of freedom,” he added.
He described NATO’s intervention as “an example of what is the true purpose of the policy and if it is justified to use force in favor of the innocent.”
Clinton added that in the 1990s there were a series of conflicts that had to be resolved after the collapse of communism in Europe, “but in the end everything focused on whether we would allow Kosovo to undergo a new round of ethnic cleansing.”
“For the United States and the world, Kosovo represented something more important than ourselves,” he continued.
Madeleine Albright, who was US Secretary of State at the time of the war, addressed the crowd and stated that NATO and its allies “did the right thing” in 1999.
“We won because our alliance was strong and unified, and our cause was just, the campaign was founded on the foundation of justification,” she added.
“The strongest alliance in the world was going to be watching as an ethnic group was going to be expelled from their homes in the vicinity of NATO? The answer had to be no,” Albright continued.
“We showed the world what is possible when diplomacy and (military) force work together in favor of values,” the 82-year-old added.
A statue of Albright was inaugurated on Wednesday in the center of Pristina.
Kosovo’s president, former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci, said that his country “wants to live as a state in peace and good neighborliness with the whole world, to ensure the well-being of all its citizens,” including the country’s minorities, in particular the Serbian community.
He added that the nation cannot be considered complete “without hoisting the flag at the headquarters of the UN.”
He also called for “recognition of five countries of the European Union,” which played a part in the conflict, Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus.
Thaci said his country is willing to “negotiate with Serbia a general agreement, in order to normalize relations between the two countries.”
After 78 days of bombing between March and June 1999, some 50,000 NATO troops entered Kosovo while the Serbian army and police left the province.
Around nine years later, in February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence with the support of the US and other Western allies.
Kosovo has not been officially recognized as a country by Serbia, China and Russia, which has prevented its entry to the UN and other important international organizations.
The former Serbian province was in conflict with Belgrade for years, which ended in clashes between the Yugoslavian army and Albanian-Kosovan guerrilla fighters, before NATO decided to intervene to prevent further escalation.