PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) - Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was presented with a 'Golden Medal of Liberty' during a ceremony in the Kosovo capital Pristina.
President Ibrahim Rugova presented the medal in honour of Albright's efforts to end a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in the breakaway Serbian province in 1998-1999.
The war ended after a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian forces under then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw. Kosovo is now a UN protectorate but its ethnic Albanian majority still demands independence.
"She will always be respected and loved," Rugova told reporters Tuesday, after the decoration ceremony.
Albright also addressed the provincial assembly Tuesday as part of her visit to promote democratic values.
"Your name commands respect throughout Kosovo. Without you the world would be completely different and Kosovo wouldn't have brought its dream to fruition," parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci said in his introductory remarks.
Albright stressed economic stability, the rule of law and minorities' rights as the biggest challenges that Kosovo would face in the coming years.
"Six years ago you gained your liberty. In the time since, you have made good use of that freedom and in the years to come you will be tested continually by the demands of democracy," she said.
"Your future is up to you, as it should be," she added in the speech which was broadcast live by Kosovo's two main television channels.
It is Albright's first visit to Kosovo since 1999 and she would have been impressed by the Kosovo Albanians' lingering affection for former US president Bill Clinton, whose name adorns everything from hotels to shopping malls.
Kosovo Albanians see Albright's efforts as crucial to the international intervention, which went ahead without United Nations approval and in the face of opposition from Russia.
Albright arrived Monday on a three-day visit to the province in her capacity as chairwoman of the National Democratic Institute, a non-profit US-based organization.
Six years after the UN took control of Kosovo the province remains economically paralysed and wracked by ethnic hatreds, with the Serb minority in need of constant protection from NATO peacekeepers.