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  •   Rugova Visits Macedonian Refugee Camps

    David Finkel
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A34

    SKOPJE, Macedonia Saying he is still the president of Kosovo even in exile, Ibrahim Rugova visited Macedonia Wednesday, the first time since his expulsion from Yugoslavia this month that he has been among the people he professes to lead.

    It was a visit that any president would be pleased about, although it also underscored the frustrations for him and his countrymen of separation from their homeland.

    He had a police escort and was surrounded by people chanting his name. He met with Macedonia's president, Kiro Gligorov, with Gen. Mike Jackson, NATO's top soldier in Macedonia, and with top diplomats including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill.

    The visits with Jackson and Hill were described as courtesy sessions in which pleasantries were exchanged.

    Rugova said the purpose of his visit was "to see the people." But he spent no more than 30 minutes among them, shaking no hands, making no speeches.

    On the other hand, at the end of the day he was shown on CNN being thronged by large crowds an image that surely will help Rugova in the days ahead when he travels to Albania to meet with another popular leader among refugees, Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaqi.

    Such is the life of a leader trying to hold onto his standing in a place that at the moment barely exists.

    For 10 years, the politically moderate Rugova was the most popular Albanian in Kosovo, overwhelmingly elected president by the province's ethnic Albanian majority, though the ruling Serbs did not recognize the vote. Then came the Kosovo Liberation Army to try to put control of Kosovo in Albanian hands. Then came Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's campaign to drive out ethnic Albanians. Then came NATO bombing. Then came 700,000 refugees into Macedonia and Albania. Rugova was released from house arrest and permitted to leave Yugoslavia on May 5.

    His first stop was at the camp called Stenkovec 1. "Rugova, Rugova," people chanted, but they also chanted, "KLA, KLA." Followed by a visit to the border camp at Blace, where the same thing happened. Followed by meeting after meeting, in which Rugova, according to his aide Edita Tahiri, stressed that Kosovo will need to be under a NATO protectorate, probably for several years, before it will be in good enough shape to become independent and that all Yugoslav and Serbian forces must be out of Kosovo before anyone will go back.

    In a brief interview before leaving Macedonia, Rugova said that when NATO forces go into Kosovo he will accompany them as Kosovo's "elected president" and that he is sure he has the continuing support of the people because of the accomplishments of the past decade. "I didn't make this," he said of the crisis. "The Serbs did. I built Kosovo for 10 years."

    How much support does Rugova have at this point?

    Back at Stenkovec 1, Ganimete Hasanj, a 20-year-old refugee whose tent Rugova had passed by, said: "I felt very happy when I saw him because he didn't forget his people and he came here to see us."

    But across the way, Milazim Parduzi, 54, said: "Why didn't he come here before? We liked him. We loved him. All of us gave him our vote. We were ready to die for him. But he doesn't care about us."

    When Rugova passed by the tent he now calls home, he was one of the ones chanting, "KLA."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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