State Dept. Spokesman a Star to Refugees |
By Steven Mufson
STENKOVEC I REFUGEE CAMP, Macedonia, June 11—First there was Lawrence of Arabia. And now there is Rubin of Macedonia.
During a half-hour visit today by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to this camp for ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo, hundreds of refugees pushed against ropes and chanted "Rubin, Rubin" as Albright's spokesman, James P. Rubin, passed, a bit reminiscent of a scene in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" in which liberated Arabs chant "Lawrence, Lawrence."
Rubin, dressed in blue jeans, a white shirt and sunglasses and who gets a somewhat less effusive reception at the State Department press briefing room, seemed a bit taken aback. But he regained his composure and shook hands, kissed babies and hugged two small girls who presented him with yellow wildflowers.
"We've seen him on TV," said Violetta Bunyaki, who shook Rubin's hand while holding her baby son. "We had this dream, and now it's come true. The U.S. has helped us very much, as much as it could."
Rubin and his boss were the latest in a series of celebrities visiting this refugee camp, following first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor Richard Gere, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bianca Jagger.
Albright, who received a tumultuous welcome of her own, said later: "When you see all those faces and all the children reaching out and saying 'U.S.A., U.S.A.,' you get reinforcement that this was the right thing to do."
Outside one tent, she greeted a small boy who was holding a sign that said: "We want back home Kosovo. I Love Kosovo, USA." Albright spoke with the boy's mother, who said her father had died on their way out of Kosovo and her mother was still in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.
Albright cautioned the refugees against returning to Kosovo too quickly and urged them to wait for the international military force to clear land mines as Yugoslav forces depart the province. She also urged the refugees to avoid retaliating against Serbian civilians still living in Kosovo when they return.
It remained unclear whether that message was going to get through. "I hate the Serbs," said Bunyaki, who added that she would not persecute the ones remaining in Kosovo. "That would make me the same as them."
But Tahir Shelova, 39, who said five members of her family had been killed and burned in Kosovo by Serbian forces, vowed: "The Serbian people are troublemakers. They must pay for this."
Before visiting the camp, the Czech-born Albright stopped to visit American troops gathering here to enter Kosovo.
"I was a little girl in World War II and I'm used to being freed by Americans," Albright said. In fact, Albright's family took refuge in London during World War II, and Russian troops eventually drove the Germans out of Czechoslovakia.
Nonetheless, Albright said, "I was in Europe, and it was at this stage that I fell in love with Americans in uniform. And I continue to have that love affair."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company