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Saturday, June 12, 1999 Published at 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK


UK leads Nato into Kosovo

British troops have been crossing the border since 0400 BST

British troops leading Nato's peacekeeping force into Kosovo are reported to have arrived on the outskirts of the capital Pristina.

Kosovo: Special Report
Wesley Clark, Nato Supreme Commander Europe said reconnaissance troops were "in the vicinity of Pristina airfield" while the armoured column was just 20 kms from the capital.

Paratroopers and Gurkhas rolled across from the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, accompanied by French troops at first light on Saturday morning. For them it marked the culmination of three frustrating months of preparation and waiting.

[ image: A British soldier at the Kosovo border]
A British soldier at the Kosovo border
The first British armoured cars crossed the border into Kosovo shortly after 0800 BST.

Spartan and Scimitar reconnaissance vehicles moved alongside the column and will be responsible for scouring the ground ahead of the armour when they go into Kosovo.

Four hours earlier wave after wave of Puma and Chinook helicopters flew low over the UK troops' Forward Assembly Area at Blace towards the high ground of southern Kosovo.

Diplomatic Correspondent Peter Biles: British troops have met no resistance
At the same time US Apache attack helicopters flew parallel with the British fleet across the border.

The first phase of Nato's deployment in Kosovo is now said to be complete.

(Click here to see an animated map showing timetable of Serb withdrawal and Nato's planned movements)

UK Armed Forced Minister Doug Henderson told the daily Ministry of Defence briefing in London that Nato troops advancing on Pristina faced a "perilous task" with hazards like mines and booby traps likely to be encountered along the way.

But the alliance says so far so good. Speaking via a live link from Skopje, the British commander in Macedonia, Major General Richard Dannert, said British forces had encountered elements of the Serb army and interior ministry police, as well as the KLA, but had met with no opposition.

UK Defence Secretary George Robertson: Presence of Russians didn't undermine Nato's successful operation
Earlier, Russian troops unexpectedly arrived in the capital ahead of Nato troops in what the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called an "unfortunate" move.

Mr Henderson said he accepted this explanation, adding that discussions are under way with the Russians to "resolve command and control issues" in Kosovo.

Hercules crash setback

Special Correspondent Ben Brown: "Troops are moving deeper into Kosovo"
The Nato operation appeared to be moving forward swiftly and UK Defence Secretary George Robertson praised the troops involved.

He said: "The signs of the professionalism and the training and the preparation are all coming together here.

"I am extremely pleased that we are now in there and that the troops of Nato will soon get to grips with creating a safe environment and we will then start to fulfil our promise to get those refugees home."

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports on the Hercules crash
Final preparations for the mission were overshadowed on Friday night when a British Hercules aircraft exploded in flames on a runway in Albania.

[ image: The Hercules plane burns on the runway]
The Hercules plane burns on the runway
The Ministry of Defence said a C130 Hercules transport plane caught fire during take-off from Kukes. One person suffered minor injuries.

All 12 crew members were evacuated from the aircraft, just before ammunition on board let off loud explosions.

An Independent Radio News reporter near the scene said he saw "a big flash, a huge explosion, immediately afterwards huge plumes of smoke billowed up into the skies".

[ image:  ]

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