- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia — President Bush yesterday called on Europe to shoulder a greater share of the peacekeeping duties in the Balkans and urged local and international police to quickly take the place of NATO forces so that American troops can go home.
During a visit with U.S. troops in Kosovo, the president also signed a bill boosting military pay, benefits and health care by $1.9 billion. He promised billions more next year, prompting enthusiastic cheers of "Hoo-ah" from troops whose quality of life had declined during the Clinton administration.
"America owes you a decent quality of life," Mr. Bush told 3,000 troops who frequently interrupted him with applause. "When I ran for office, I promised America that help is on the way for the men and women who wear our uniform. Today, I'm proud to say: Help is arriving."
In a separate statement issued during his tour of this American encampment, Mr. Bush argued that the United States should shift more peacekeeping responsibilities to Europe now that the six former republics of Yugoslavia have made strides toward European-style democracy.
"As the people and countries of the Balkans move closer to Europe, it is only natural that Europe assume increasing leadership and responsibility," the president said. "We must step up our efforts to transfer responsibilities for public security from combat forces to specialized units, international police, and ultimately local authorities.
"NATO's commitment to the peace of this region is enduring, but the stationing of our forces here should not be indefinite," he added. "Our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining, when local, democratically elected authorities can assume full responsibility, and when NATO's forces can go home."
Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice strongly suggested during last year's presidential campaign that a Bush administration would pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans. President Clinton first deployed troops there in 1995, insisting they would be home within a year.
But after taking office, Mr. Bush acquiesced to European demands that the United States continue peacekeeping operations indefinitely. The president assured skittish allies that America would not leave the Balkans until European peacekeepers were also ready to depart.
While restating that commitment yesterday, Mr. Bush sought to speed the return of Americans by calling for all NATO troops to be replaced by international police and local authorities. To that end, he said "we must reorganize and re-energize our efforts to build civil institutions and promote rule of law."
"We understand that America's contribution is essential, both militarily and politically," Mr. Bush said. "We will not draw down our forces in Bosnia or Kosovo precipitously or unilaterally. We came in together, and we will go out together."
But the president emphasized that democracy has begun to take hold in the former Yugoslav republics and other nations in the region since U.S. troops were first deployed to the Balkans nearly six years ago. He spoke of the Balkans soon becoming part of "a Europe that is whole, free and at peace."
"A few years ago, that vision would have seemed fanciful," Mr. Bush said. "Today, as I meet here with our forces at Camp Bondsteel, that vision is within our reach.
"Croatia has become a responsible source of regional stability," he said. "The people of Yugoslavia have chosen democracy over dictatorship and have sent their former dictator to The Hague.
"Albania's recent elections, while less than perfect, were still a step forward in its democratic development. There are moderate governments in Bosnia-Herzegovina willing to work as serious partners with the international community in preparing their country for European integration.
"For the first time in history, all the governments of the region are democratic, committed to cooperating with each other, and predisposed to joining Europe," Mr. Bush noted.
Still, the president acknowledged that trouble spots remain in the Balkans. Kosovo, while currently peaceful, is a haven for rebels who continue to sow unrest in neighboring Macedonia, imperiling a fragile cease-fire.
"The greatest challenge today is in Macedonia, where armed insurgents threaten peace and stability," the president said. "Some here in Kosovo are trying to help the insurgents.
"Let me be clear: The United States stands against all who use or support violence against democracy and the rule of law," he added. "Those here in Kosovo who support the insurgency in Macedonia are hurting the interests of ethnic Albanians throughout the region."
During his speech to the troops, Mr. Bush thanked them for interdicting many of the weapons that are being smuggled out of Kosovo. "Thanks to you, there are fewer arms flowing into Macedonia and a hope for peace in that land," the president said. "We need you to keep patrolling the border and cutting off the arms flow."
Mr. Bush recently imposed sanctions against people and groups assisting the insurgents. But yesterday he acknowledged that step alone will not quell the region's strife. In fact, violence was escalating in Macedonia while Mr. Bush was speaking in Kosovo.
After his visit, Mr. Bush flew to Rome to change planes before heading home to Washington. His itinerary was not disrupted by tens of thousands of demonstrators who marched through the streets of Rome to protest the death of a fellow demonstrator during last week's summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy.
Yesterday's protest was peaceful. The marchers wore small bull's-eyes over their hearts and carried a banner that said "Assassin!" Some waved communist flags, while others wore T-shirts bearing the likeness of Ernesto "Che" Guevera, a leader of the communist revolution in Cuba.

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