The president then left Europe to begin his return home, ending his second European trip, which took him to Britain and Rome before the Balkans. He is due back in Washington Tuesday evening.
Mr. Bush came to Camp Bondsteel to thank the Americans who are part of the NATO force of 42,000, and assure them they're not forgotten, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
The president brought with him a defense spending bill passed by Congress that includes $1.9 billion to boost pay, benefits and health care for American troops. He signed it before thousands of cheering soldiers in green camouflage fatiguues.
Mr. Bush told the troops that their presence has been vital to neighboring Macedonia, where a U.N.-brokered cease-fire is threatened by fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. He said there is now "a hope for peace" because border patrols by U.S. soldiers have helped keep weapons out of rebel hands.
"But there's still a lot of work to do," Mr. Bush cautioned. "Kosovo must not be a safe haven for insurgencies elsewhere. That's why we need you to keep patrolling the border and cutting off the arms flow."
Macedonian authorities Tuesday shut all border crossings into the Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo without explanation, a spokesman for the local United Nations mission said.
The president issued a statement backing efforts by Western diplomats to broker a peace settlement, and called on rebels and the Macedonian government to respect the cease-fire.
"Those here in Kosovo who support the insurgency in Macedonia are hurting the interests of ethnic Albanians throughout the region," Bush said. "The people of Kosovo should focus on Kosovo."
The United States, the president vowed, will work with NATO allies in pursuing freedom and tolerance "from Kosovo to Kashmir." He said the presence of U.S. soldiers of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds has served as an example of peaceful coexistence for Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
"It's a rebuke to the ethnic intolerance and narrow nationalism that brought us here in the first place," Mr. Bush said. "We must not allow difference to be a license to kill, and vulnerability an excuse to dominate."
The United States' goal, Mr. Bush said, "is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining, when local democratically elected authorities can assume full responsibility, and when NATO forces can go home."
During his presidential campaign, then-Gov. Bush said he wanted to bring U.S. troops home from the Balkans.
As he did earlier in his European trip, Mr. Bush Tuesday pledged that the United States will not back out of its NATO peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans. "Wcame in together and we will leave together," he said.
But in his statement, Mr. Bush said while U.S. forces' involvement in Kosovo is essential now, it "should not be indefinite." He stressed the need to speed along the transfer of public safety duties from combat forces to "specialized units, international police and, ultimately, local authorities."
Upon his arrival at Camp Bondsteel, the president received briefings from American and NATO military commanders on the status of the Kosovo peacekeeping force. It numbers 42,000 troops from a total of 33 nations.
Mr. Bush also heard from the United Nations' top official in Kosovo, whose job it is to restore civilian authority in this province that technically is part of Yugoslavia but whose ethnic Albanian majority wants to make it an independent state.
The visit was Mr. Bush's first to an overseas military mission, and the soldiers seemed genuinely happy to see him. The president had lunch with soldiers at an Army mess hall.
U.S. troops came to Kosovo, previously a Serb-ruled province, as part of the KFOR peace force in June 1999 after NATO's air war to end Serb repression of ethnic Albanians.
But since the province was put under international control, the tables have turned. One of the peacekeepers' main tasks is to guard Serbs and other minorities from attacks by Albanians.
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