NATO peacekeeping commander arrives in Pristina
KLA reports new atrocities by withdrawing Serbs
June 12, 1999
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Surrounded by troops, armored vehicles and helicopters at the Pristina airport, NATO's peacekeeping force commander called on Serbs and ethnic Albanians on Saturday to comply with an international peace plan for Kosovo.
But as NATO troops spread out in the devastated Serbian province, new reports came of atrocities committed by Serbian forces during their withdrawal.
"Noncompliance will not be tolerated from whichever quarter it may come," said Britain's Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, speaking in driving rain at the airport in Kosovo's provincial capital after his late afternoon arrival.
Jackson requested that "all the refugees and all those who are homeless within Kosovo ... wait a little while until we are ready to take them back to their homes. Their safety and their security are my most serious concerns."
Meanwhile, members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army took a Western reporter to the small central Kosovo town of Malisevo, where they said they discovered 14 bodies.
Among the dead were a decapitated woman, said freelance journalist Juliette Terzieff. Dead dogs, cats and horses covered the area, she said.
Some Serb forces that pulled out on Friday also rolled over abandoned cars with their tanks and set fire to tractors and homes, Terzieff said.
In the United States, FBI officials said on Saturday the bureau would send a forensics team to Kosovo to assist the U.N. war crimes tribunal investigation into alleged atrocities by Yugoslav forces.
A small Russian force awaited NATO's peacekeeping force in Pristina. British armored units arrived in the city before dawn and were greeted by occasional celebratory gunfire.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the Russian contingent was making preparations to cooperate with the advance units of the international peacekeeping force, known as KFOR.
British and French units led the way into Kosovo, followed by U.S., German and Italian troops. Chinook and Puma helicopters carrying paratroopers and members of Britain's elite Gurkha rifle regiment flew across the border as Operation Joint Guardian -- one of the biggest military undertakings in Europe since World War II -- got under way.
NATO would have "several thousand troops inside Kosovo" by nightfall to stabilize the province as the Yugoslav army pulls out, said Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, in Brussels, Belgium.
So far, 7,000 Yugoslav army regulars and Serbian security police have left Kosovo under a withdrawal agreement reached Wednesday, Clark said.
A massive convoy of British and French military vehicles rolled into Kosovo around the same time, transporting the first NATO foot soldiers to step into the province since the 19-member military alliance began its 79-day air war.
While Serbs in Kosovo offered a subdued welcome to the KFOR troops, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo greeted the arriving soldiers with chants of "NATO, NATO" and "Tony Blair, Tony Blair." The British prime minister was one of NATO's most hawkish leaders during the Yugoslav conflict.
But NATO's entrance into the Yugoslav province was upstaged by the arrival early Saturday of a Russian contingent in Pristina, its purpose uncertain.
The Russians' pre-dawn arrival stunned NATO and U.S. officials. The move came in direct conflict with Moscow's assurances to Washington that it had no plans to move into Kosovo ahead of NATO troops.
"It certainly was a precipitous action, leading to some confusion," Cohen said.
But U.S. officials told CNN that the arriving British troops had a good meeting with the Russians, with no tension between them.
Russia has urged NATO to give it control of a sector of Kosovo as part of the peacekeeping force. NATO has refused to do so.
Russian Foreign Minister said the move into Kosovo was a mistake and the troops would be pulled back. But Kremlin officials soon contradicted him: Russian President 's senior international policy aide said Yeltsin ordered the troops into Kosovo to lead its peacekeeping force.
Yeltsin left the timing of the deployment up to the military, the aide, Sergei Prikhodko, told CNN. Yeltsin then promoted the detachment's commanding general for his performance.
Asked about how the Russians surprised NATO with their move into Kosovo, Clark said, "I think there's a lot of explaining that will have to be done on a lot of matters in time."
Smiling and waving, Russian soldiers in camouflage fatigues entered Pristina in the pre-dawn hours Saturday. Russia and Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation, are traditional allies. Pristina's Serb residents lined the streets, cheering, chanting and tossing flowers onto the convoy of trucks and armored personnel carriers.
Russia's role in peacekeeping efforts was still unsettled: A Russian military delegation arrived in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on Saturday to discuss that question with its NATO counterparts.
While NATO has balked at putting Russia in control of part of Kosovo, Russia has balked at putting its forces under a NATO officer -- in this case, Jackson, KFOR's commander.
Clark said he welcomed Russian troops' participation, "and we're working now to see that they're deployed within an effective and unified chain of command."
NATO troops are familiar with many of the Russian officers in Pristina from their service with the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, Clark, said Saturday.
"We know we will be able to work this out, as soldiers always do," Clark said.
Pleurat Sejdiu, a representative of the KLA, said the Russians' ties to the Serbs should prevent them from controlling any part of Kosovo.
"It's very clear this is a first step toward partition of Kosovo," Sejdiu said.
Although peacekeepers met no resistance as they went into Kosovo, they were on high alert for explosives and traps.
KFOR troops reported mortar fire shortly after crossing the frontier; they had to disarm several Serb soldiers and encountered members of the KLA, who they instructed not to interfere.
The NATO convoy then passed through a number of villages and did not see a single civilian. Signs of human tragedy were evident, following the massive exodus of Kosovo refugees over the past few months. Hundreds of abandoned cars, pieces of clothing and shoes were strewn about.
Yugoslav army officers at a checkpoint at Grlica protested that they needed more time to retreat from their positions to allow the NATO peace force to proceed.
British officers were not ready to compromise, and they insisted the Serbs get out of the way. After about 30 minutes of argument, the Serbs turned their vehicles around and NATO's advance resumed.
There were clear signs of Yugoslav forces giving way before the British thrust, as called for under Wednesday's withdrawal agreement with NATO. At least four flatbed trucks carrying Serb tanks were seen driving north, away from KFOR's advance.
More than a million ethnic Albanians were displaced by the ethnic strife in Kosovo. They made up 90 percent of the province's population of 2 million before the war, and more than 800,000 fled the country.
In Pristina, the ripple effect of NATO troops' swift advance started to show, with greater numbers of Serb residents packing cars and trailers to leave. Fearing reprisals from returning Albanians, many Serbs are leaving Kosovo to settle elsewhere in Serbia.
The city's market was thronged with hundreds of people trying to buy fresh food for their departure. And on the southern outskirts of Pristina, several plumes of smoke spiraled into the sky, apparently from fires set by Serb nationalist diehards in empty Albanian areas.
Correspondents Nic Robertson, Tom Mintier, Matthew Chance, Jill Dougherty and Chris Burns contributed to this report.
Russian troops enter Kosovo; Moscow orders them to leave
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