Hillary Rodham Clinton paid a morale-boosting visit to American peace-enforcement troops stationed here, and pledged $25 million toward the reconstruction of destroyed Bosnian homes.
“I’ve been amazed at how much has been accomplished in such a short period of time,” the first lady said as she made an eight-hour tour of outposts along the former front line in northeastern Bosnia. “Children are out playing again, farmers are back in their fields, people are moving into homes that they haven’t been in for years.”
Clinton said that she hoped the $25 million, to be channeled by the U.S. Agency for International Development through nongovernmental relief groups, “will serve as a model for the world donor community” and encourage further giving. She said the money would be spent on repairing 2,500 houses.
Clinton was traveling with her daughter, Chelsea, as well as singer Sheryl Crow and the comedian Sinbad. Besides visiting the U.S. soldiers at Tuzla Air Base and several smaller posts, the group toured wards at a mobile army surgical hospital and met with Bosnian officials and international relief providers. In the early evening they departed for Aviano Air Base in Italy.
About 500 cheering American soldiers turned out to receive the visitors at the recreation hall at Tuzla Air Base, a dreary realm of mud, sandbags and concertina wire outside the gritty industrial city of Tuzla. Although troop morale has improved since the earliest days of the deployment, the men and women here still complain of bad or nonexistent telephone links, a total ban on beer and other alcohol, confinement to their bases and other shortages and difficulties.
Clinton praised their work in Bosnia, however, saying, “I just hope you have some feeling of how proud and grateful America is.” The first lady said she had learned the soldiers were having a hard time calling their families, and had brought with her more than 2,000 prepaid telephone calling cards, donated by the U.S. telecommunications companies AT&T; and MCI.
Clinton also brought videos, pencils and 22 boxes of toys, which she told the soldiers they could distribute to Bosnian children.
Soldiers who came to Monday afternoon’s performance said they were mainly interested in hearing Crow sing and Sinbad tell jokes, but they expressed appreciation that Clinton had come too. If any of last December’s anger at President Clinton - who was then scorned by many soldiers as a Vietnam War draft dodger - remained, it was not directed at the first lady Monday.
“It’s outstanding for them to come,” said Spc. Raul Gomez, from Whittier, Calif.
The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = TUZLA AIR BASE, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA