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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Peacekeepers Fly Into Kosovo

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- The main contingent of Russian troops who will join the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo began arriving Tuesday, and a Russian general said the people of the province had nothing to fear from them.

"I don't think there's any basis for this," Major General Anatoly Voichkov, commander of Russian forces at the main Kosovo airport, said when questioned about the ethnic Albanians' fears that the Russians may side with their traditional Serbian allies.

"The main job and task of our contingent is the security and safety of everyone, whatever their nationality," he said.

The first of the big, white Il-76s flew into Kosovo's main Slatina Airport, just outside the provincial capital, Pristina, a day after Moscow and NATO ended a dispute over the role of the Russian forces.

Television pictures showed Russian troops disembarking from a plane wearing UN-style blue berets.

Interfax, citing the Defense Ministry, reported that five Il-76s took off from Russia for Yugoslavia on Tuesday to deliver paratroopers, military hardware and food for the Russian peacekeeping contingent. The departure of a sixth plane was postponed until Wednesday.

The six planes were to transport more than 300 paratroopers and also a group of Russian journalists, Interfax said.

"The main challenge facing us is - you've seen how difficult it is for our Russian contingent to fly here, but I think these problems are behind us," Voichkov said.

"They are temporary ones, and I think we now have the problem of where our forces will be based here.

"We are forced to put our warrant officers and our men in buildings that aren't really fit to be living in as such. Those are the main problems we're facing at the moment but I think we'll cope with them," he said.

The arrival of the main Russian contingent was delayed by a disagreement with NATO over the terms for the Russian troops to take part in the international force, but the problem was cleared up through negotiations between the sides in Moscow on Monday.

Russia already has a few hundred troops at the airport in Pristina, where they arrived unexpectedly by road from peacekeeping duties in Bosnia just hours before the first NATO troops entered Kosovo from Macedonia on June 12.

Moscow plans to fly in more troops from Russia to bring its total membership of the KFOR international peacekeeping force to about 3,600.

Lieutenant-General Mike Jackson of Britain, KFOR commander, met the commander of the Russian forces, Valery Yevtukhovich, at the airport. Pool television pictures showed Jackson shaking hands with and talking to the Russian generals.

The unexpected arrival of the Russians at the airport last month soured relations between NATO and Moscow.

The main contingent was grounded in Russia over the weekend after Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary denied an air corridor at NATO's request.