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Saturday, June 12, 1999 Published at 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK

World: Europe

Russians enter Kosovo

The arrival of Russian forces took Nato by surprise

A convoy of Russian soldiers has arrived in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, in the early hours of Saturday, to a cheering crowd.

Kosovo: Special Report
There was shouting and fireworks as thousands of people crowded the main street of the city to greet the soldiers, who arrived aboard trucks and troop transports.

Michael Williams in Pristina: "Sound of gunfire announced their arrival"
They arrived as British and French Nato troops waited in Macedonia on Kosovo's southern border to enter as part of an international peacekeeping force authorised by the United Nations.

Earlier, Nato said it had received assurances from Moscow that it would not attempt to deploy troops in the Serbian province before western forces.

British paratroopers were put on stand-by to fly to Pristina, on Friday, to head off a possible Russian attempt to take control of the airport there.

They were later stood down during a day of confusion about the column of Russian troops and military vehicles heading through Yugoslavia for the Kosovo border. There were also reports that Russia was preparing to fly in paratroopers.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall: "Russia expected to be treated like an equal, not a junior partner"
The first troops of the international intervention force - K-For - are to cross the border from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at 0500 local time (0300 GMT).

Meanwhile Serbian forces have been continuing to withdraw in large numbers, along with many Serb civilians who are taking all their belongings with them.

Moscow's threat

The deployment of the small Russian force came shortly after Moscow threatened to bypass Nato and establish its own peacekeeping sector in Kosovo in conjunction with Belgrade.

The Russian vehicles were marked with K-For, the insignia of the international intervention force in Kosovo.

US Vice President Al Gore said Washington had received assurances that the Russians would not enter Kosovo.

The BBC's Mark Laity: "The Russians came up with a dramtic piece of brinkmanship"
BBC Defence Correspondent Mark Laity says Russia is playing a high-stakes game of brinkmanship in Yugoslavia, after the US refusal in Moscow to accept Russian modification to the peace plan.

(Click here to see an animated map showing timetable of Serb withdrawal)

US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had left Moscow after inconclusive talks on the future of the Russian presence in Kosovo when the reports came through about the convoy.

The BBC's Mike Williams: "Complete households are on the move"
He abruptly turned his plane around and went back into talks with Russian officials which were expected to go into the early hours of Saturday.

Correspondents say Mr Talbott had "played hard ball" with the Russians, refusing any modification to the UN-backed formula for peacekeeping in Kosovo.

The Americans insist on a Nato-led structure which would place all peacekeeping forces in Kosovo under their command. Russia is demanding independent control of their soldiers in a separate sector.

Delay in Macedonia

The BBC's Ben Brown: "The refugees know their ordeal is nearly over"
The first units of the Nato contingent had been expected to cross into Kosovo from Macedonia at about 4am local time on Friday, but some troop-contributing countries were reported to have requested more time to assemble their forces.

Nato denies the deployment has been delayed, saying everything is going smoothly.

However a BBC correspondent at Nato headquarters in Brussels says it is understood that there was a delay - caused by Greece's refusal to allow US forces on their way to Macedonia to come ashore in Greece until the last moment.

Fighting continues

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has accused Serb forces of burning houses as they withdraw from Kosovo.

Talking Point
The rebels said the Serbs had set fire to homes in the southern town of Kacanik and a BBC correspondent in the hills overlooking the town said he could see plumes of smoke rising from it.

Our correspondent also reported a number of very loud explosions from the valley, which appeared to be mines going off, and the sound of automatic fire as trucks carrying Serbian police drove away.

He said this could have been an exchange of fire with guerrilla forces or the Serbs shooting as they left.

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