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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK

World: Americas

Clinton praises soldier releases

Christopher Stone and Steven Gonzales celebrate their freedom with Reverend Jesse Jackson

President Clinton has thanked the Reverend Jesse Jackson for his successful mission to free three US servicemen held prisoner in Belgrade, but has so far declined to make a return gesture to Yugoslavia's President Milosevic.

Kosovo: Special Report
In a meeting with President Clinton on Monday, Reverend Jackson suggested releasing two Serb prisoners of war held by Nato, pausing the bombing, or speak to the Yugoslav leader by telephone.

[ image: Family members are suffering from jet lag]
Family members are suffering from jet lag
Although US officials said President Clinton had no plans to fulfil the civil rights leader's request, Reverend Jackson remained hopeful.

"He did not say, 'I would do it.' He needs time to mull over, to think about it," Reverend Jackson said.

Reverend Jackson also discussed a letter he received from President Milosevic to take to President Clinton.

Prisoners 'felt great'

Staff Sergeant Christopher Stone, 25, Specialist Corporal Steven Gonzales, 22, and Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, 24, have been celebrating in Germany with their families after being released at the weekend.

[ image: Rosie Gonzales thanked Rev Jackson
Rosie Gonzales thanked Rev Jackson "from the bottom of my heart"
The three made a brief appearance with relatives on a hospital balcony, saying they felt "great."

They are now undergoing debriefing and medical examinations, although they insist that they had not been mistreated during their time in captivity.

They added that their injuries - seen on Serb television - had been received during their capture and not afterwards.

President Clinton may pay a visit to them during a visit to Germany on Wednesday and Thursday to hold talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

He has warned that the release does not affect Nato's campaign plans.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, President Clinton said that although the US soldiers were on their way home, thousands of Kosovo Albanians are still homeless.

Medical tests

The released soldiers are staying in an American military hospital at Landstuhl in Germany with their families before returning to the US.

In initial medical examinations, doctors found a stitched-up wound on the head of Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles, carried out while he was in captivity.

The tests also revealed that Sergeant Ramirez has two fractured ribs, one on each side, as well as swelling of his lower right leg. The injuries are healing normally and no surgery is planned.

Staff Sergeant Christopher Stone, 25, was found to have a broken nose after a scan on his face.

Doctors said Specialist Corporal Steven Gonzales, 22, "turned out fine" in initial check-ups.

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