War In The Balkans: You will go home, pledges Clinton

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The Independent Online
THE REMOTE prospect that they would one day return home "in safety and in freedom" was the best a sombre Bill Clinton could offer yesterday when he toured the dormitories and living quarters of a refugee shelter in Germany and heard for himself the emotion and anger of a group of Kosovo's exiled Albanians.

Sitting with a group near the Ingelheim centre's canteen, President Clinton encouraged the refugees to tell their stories and assured them that Slobodan Milosevic would not get his way. He would not succeed "in erasing your identity from the pages of history and he will not succeed in erasing your presence from the land of your parents and your grandparents".

But he appealed to them to resist being consumed by hatred. "When you have gone through something as awful as this, it is very easy to have your spirit broken, to spend the rest of your life obsessed with anger and resentment. But if you do that you have already given those who have opposed you a victory". He then quoted the poet William Butler Yeats: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart."

More than 300 Kosovars have been given shelter at the disused single- storey timber barracks near Frankfurt where they now spend their days playing table tennis or scouring the newspapers and watching television for news of home. Yesterday the President advised them to unburden themselves of their horrific experiences. "I realise that all of you have been through a terrible time and it must be even harder to talk about" he said. "But it is very important that your story be told, it is important for us to know what happened to you".

One teenage boy, his eyes red and swollen from crying was too upset to speak. Another told the President: "I am young, but my life is broken from what I have seen in blood."

Choking back his own tears an older man asked Mr Clinton to forgive the unfettered emotion on display. "It is not easy for Albanians to cry. But for people who have seen massacres it's just impossible to speak without feeling pretty emotional" he explained.

"Even if we die", said a woman who was forced at gunpoint from her home in Pristina by Serb soldiers, "it would be easier because we know that somebody knows what we're going through". Spotting a T-shirt from the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games on one of the refugees prompted Mr Clinton to say: "I could imagine that any of you could be my neighbours."

Both Mr Clinton and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder promised the refugees computer terminals to help track down lost relatives and "so you can constantly get news in your own language".

"I know this has been a frustrating and difficult time for Europe", Mr Clinton said. "I say again: be patient with your political leaders. It will not drag on for years but we cannot expect an instantaneous result."