PRISTINA -- Kosovar President Hashim Thaci has awarded the Freedom Order to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in gratitude for his role in helping end the 1998-99 war in Kosovo that killed some 13,000 people.
Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other foreign officials are in Pristina to attend a ceremony on June 12 marking 20 years since NATO troops were deployed to help stop a bloody Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian nationalists in Kosovo, then a province of rump Yugoslavia.
Thaci handed the award to Clinton on June 11, thanking him for his contribution to laying the "founding stone of this freedom" and describing the former U.S. president as a "hero of Kosovo."
"I have always been proud that I was president of the United States when you needed someone to stand up and say: 'No more ethnic cleansing, no more running people out of their homes, no more killing innocent civilians. There's got to be a better way,'" Clinton said upon accepting the award.
"But everything we did wouldn't have made a difference if the people of Kosovo had not made the decision to build a country, to build a society, to build a functioning government, and to walk away from war for peace," he added.
Serbia's crackdown during the 1990s against ethnic Albanians in its then-province Kosovo ended following a 78-day NATO air campaign in 1999.
Kosovo declared its independence nearly a decade later, in 2008. Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Belgrade does not.
Clinton and Albright were instrumental in getting the NATO campaign approved. Both oversaw the Kosovo-Serbia peace deal after the war.
Kosovo Honors U.S. Ex-President Clinton With Freedom Order