German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged moral and material aid to ethnic Albanians and Serbs on Friday but told them that democracy was the key to their future.
Thousands of ethnic Albanians mobbed the chancellor, shouting "Schroeder! Schroeder!" and "Deutschland! Deutschland!" as he walked through the streets of Prizren, the city in southwestern Kosovo where German peacekeepers are based.
Securing democracy in Yugoslavia is a "precondition for improving the region," Schroeder said later, setting the tone for a major summit next week on the future of the Balkans.
He acknowledged, however, that it will take plenty of work to bridge the ethnic divide in Kosovo, the Serbian province where sporadic violence continues despite the presence of more than 30,000 NATO peacekeepers.
Schroeder's five-hour visit was an important show of Western support for peace in Kosovo. It also was full of symbolism for Germany, which is trying to forge a new role as a continental peace builder.
He thanked 6,300 German peacekeepers in the province, who represent the country's biggest foreign military deployment since World War II.
"You cannot make people forget historic guilt and historic crimes," he told the troops, referring to Germany's tarnished military past. "But what the German army is doing here is creating a new picture of Germany that is dutiful . . . a picture of a peaceful Germany."
The Kosovo conflict was an early test for the newly elected German chancellor. He provided pivotal support in NATO's 11-week air campaign against Yugoslavia, resisting antiwar sentiment and risking the collapse of Germany's first center-left government since the 1980s.