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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK

World: Europe

British troops find war and peace

The Irish Guards' tanks were bedecked with flowers by locals

British troops patrolling the capital of Kosovo have been confronted with bizarre scenes of life as normal in the war-torn city.

Kosovo: Special Report
As the Yugoslav army withdraws about 1,600 Irish Guards and Paras have been working to secure Pristina.

The Irish Guards, in Warrior armoured fighting vehicles, were the first Britons to arrive and immediately mounted patrols.

Later on Sunday, after a spectacular arrival by Chinook and Puma helicopters, 800 paratroopers began to fan out.

Col Nick Cliffit: "We had a reassuringly quiet night after the tensions and shootings of yesterday."
Pristina is now largely under Nato command, with troops patrolling on foot and tanks at every major road in and out of the city.

But they are ready for a difficult time after an incident on Sunday when a Serb policeman was shot dead.

[ image: Children in Pristina have been making friends with the Paras on patrol]
Children in Pristina have been making friends with the Paras on patrol
And at the city's airport a stand-off with the Russians continues, with more negotiations planned to end the deadlock.

Meanwhile, drunk, angry and armed Serbs have been keeping tensions high letting loose volleys of gunfire from AK-47 machine guns.

But at the same time, people have been sitting in pavement cafes, drinking coffee and eating cakes.

'This is not like Bosnia'

And when the Paras set up Northern Ireland-style street corner positions, they were surrounded by curious children who stroked their rifles and chatted to the grinning soldiers.

Major Andrew Jackson, in command of A Company 1 Para, said: "This is verging on the surreal. The sheer passion of these people is overwhelming."

Challenger tank crews have also been describing their journey through Kosovo.

Tank driver Jamie Blair said: "There was a lot of bomb damage as we came through and houses burnt down.

"But the best bit for me was the people coming out on the road. They were really happy to see us and were waving signs and giving us presents and stuff.

"That was a real morale boost and not like Bosnia at all where people were not glad to see us."

[ image: One officer described the warmth of the welcome in Pristina as surreal]
One officer described the warmth of the welcome in Pristina as surreal
Tank Commander Sergeant Mark Orr added: ''When the people came down to the roadside there was just a really big party feeling.''

In Pristina's Albanian residential areas it is clear that many homes are empty and yet more have been ransacked and smashed up.

In the Serbian districts the only vehicles are those being loaded with household goods as people flee Kosovo.

At Pristina's heavily-bombed bus station, Yugoslav troops sat smoking as Irish Guards with SA-80 rifles stood over them.

The BBC's Dominic Arkwright is among refugees as they return home
When their lifts arrived they snatched their gear and ran to the cars and buses to make their escape as quickly as possible.

There has been less bomb damage in Pristina than many people expected, although in the centre some sites - presumed to be Nato's strategic targets - were reduced to rubble.

Around the Grand Hotel, where the international press has established a base, roads are still busy and shops are open.

Bristow Helicopters is sending two helicopters from its Aberdeen base to support the UN relief operations in Kosovo.

Staff have been working round the clock to prepare the Sikorsky S61 helicopters for departure on Tuesday.

The trip is initially planned for one month working for the UN world food programme.

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