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Albright warns Albanians against expansion

TIRANA, Albania -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Saturday against expansionist desires in Albania, saying the international community would no more accept a Greater Albania than it would a Greater Serbia or a Greater Croatia.

In her first visit here since the end of the 78-day NATO air campaign against neighboring Serbia in June, Albright promised financial and political support for Albania's efforts to join international organizations. She called on Albanians to help lead southeast Europe into the future.Albright also urged Albanians to use their influence to help and support the people of neighboring Kosovo in the hope that they will be guided by "an attitude of tolerance."

The southern Serbian province is populated mainly by ethnic Albanians, who share a common language and culture with Albania proper, and Serbs.

Serb forces killed thousands of ethnic Albanians during Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's 18-month crackdown against separatists in Kosovo. After NATO bombing forced the Serb troops to withdraw this spring, ethnic Albanians began attacking Serbs as revenge.

On the idea of a Greater Albania -- an expansion of Albania to include Serbia's Kosovo province and Albanian-populated areas of western Macedonia -- Albright said Albanians must not allow themselves to be used by others who would create conflict in the region by trying to "redraw the map of southeast Europe."

She said any attempts to extend boundaries are "an invitation to violence."

The secretary of state promised a $9 million grant to improve security further and help the country attract foreign investment, in addition to $12 million granted last month as state budget support.

"We want to support your efforts to build a professional and accountable police, an efficient customs service and an impartial judiciary that defends the rights of citizens and upholds your laws," she said.

Albright held talks with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani and Prime Minister Ilir Meta. About 2,000 people gathered outside Meta's office to greet her.

Some waved American flags and signs written in English that said "Welcome Friend" and "NATO + USA Free Kosovo."

Several top U.S. officials have canceled visits to Albania in recent months, fearing attacks by Islamic terrorist groups believed to have been operating in the country under the shield of humanitarian organizations.

At least 10 Islamic terrorist suspects have been arrested in Albania since last June. Some of them were believed to be collaborating with the terrorist group of Osama bin Laden, the man U.S. authorities suspect of masterminding the 1998 bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa.