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Sunday, June 27, 1999

First planes land at Pristina airport

Russian, French transports bring soldiers, equipment for peacekeepers

By Niko Price
Associated Press


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia - An advance contingent of Russian troops flew into Kosovo on Saturday to help reopen a strategic airport and join an uneasy alliance with NATO peacekeepers struggling to rein in widespread ethnic unrest.
   As the Russians disembarked, there were more reports of looting in Pristina and ethnic Albanians burning or taking over Serb homes in the western town of Pec. A potentially explosive confrontation was defused in one northern town when an ethnic Albanian rebel leader stepped in at the last minute to urge calm.
   An Ilyushin-76 jet carrying 21 paratroopers and 18 airport technicians touched down at Pristina's airport in the early afternoon, the first airplane to land in Kosovo since NATO began its peacekeeping mission two weeks ago. It was followed moments later by a French transport carrying equipment to help make the airport fully operational.
   The Russians will join about 200 of their countrymen who seized Slatina Airport on June 12.In the southern town of Lipljane, British soldiers arrested a member of the Serbian Interior Ministry police accused of involvement in as many as 56 deaths in Kosovo, a British forces spokesman said Saturday.
   British Lt. Col. Robin Hodges said the man, who was not identified, was not on a list of suspects indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands, but tribunal officials have been notified.
   Hodges said the arrest was made based on the accounts of witnesses who claim to have seen some of the murders.
   On Saturday, British and Russian troops mingled on the tarmac at the airport in Pristina. A Russian flag and the flag of Russian airborne forces flew atop the terminal building, with a British flag off to one side.

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