The former president received an honorary degree and spoke about “self-determination.”

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) – Thousands of cheering ethnic Albanians greeted Bill Clinton in Kosovo on Friday as he made his second visit to the province since assembling a coalition that halted a brutal crackdown by Serb forces.

Guarded by an armored personnel carrier and NATO peacekeepers, the former president’s motorcade streamed past flag-waving crowds as he traveled from the airport to the capital of the ethnically divided province. He then strode into the city’s university to receive an honorary degree.

Clinton is adored by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority for leading the coalition that halted the brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians seeking independence four years ago.

After donning a blue gown for the degree ceremony, the former president urged students and other dignitaries to create a positive model in Kosovo that would encourage people in the Middle East and the rest of the world struggling with ethnic and religious problems.

He appealed to them to speak out against ethnic killings.

“You cannot build a new Kosovo on retributive violence,” he said. “No one ever gets even in this life.”

Clinton also said he believed in “self-determination,” winning applause from ethnic Albanian leaders and students in the audience.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority wants independence for the U.N.-run province, while its Serb minority and Serbia’s leadership want it to remain part of Serbia.

“I want you to be able to create your own future,” he said. “But, the only real debate is how to do it.”

Friday’s visit marked Clinton’s second trip to Kosovo. He last visited in November 1999 – just months after about 6,000 U.S. troops were deployed in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission here.

A 78-day NATO air war pushed out Serb forces under the command of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in June 1999. Milosevic is now on trial for war crimes at a U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands for atrocities committed in Kosovo and other Balkan wars.

An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed during the crackdown and some 800,000 were forced out of their homes. They returned home after NATO-led peacekeepers moved in.

But even now – four years after the conflict – ethnic tensions and violence in Kosovo remain high.

About 200,000 Kosovo Serbs and other minorities fled Kosovo after the war, fearing revenge attacks. Dozens of Serbs who remained have since been killed.

“Last time I was here, I admitted that you could never forget the injustices and inhumanity you suffered and that no outsider, including me, could force you to forgive anyone,” Clinton said. “But you should try. Not for them, but for you. I want you to be free.”

Clinton ended his visit by stopping at Camp Bondsteel, where 2,500 U.S. troops are based.

He called on the soldiers to “help the children to overcome the hatred that so dominated their parents’ lives.”

“In a world where you can’t kill or occupy or jail every single enemy you’ve got, … we have to make more partners and fewer terrorists,” he said. “That’s what you are doing here every single day.”

AP-ES-09-19-03 1600EDT

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