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British troops in tense standoff with Russians.

BRITISH forces were last night converging on the Kosovan capital Pristina in a bid to complete the first stage of the multinational operation to bring peace and security to the beleaguered province.

But the UK forces found themselves involved in a tense stand-off with Russian troops at the city's airport, a strategically vital target for Nato as it seeks to secure the province.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Jackson, the British commander of the international peace implementation force K-For, last night remained locked in talks at the airport with Russian commanders.

Their talks mirrored top-level discussions in Moscow, where US representatives were trying to agree how Russian forces will fit into the Nato-dominated peace implementation mission.

The British troops started to arrive in the vicinity of the rain and hail-sodden Kosovan capital after an 11-hour drive from Macedonia in one of Europe's biggest military undertakings since World War Two.

But at the airport, the advance guard of the British forces - men of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment - were initially refused access, with armed Serb forces blocking the entrance, which had been occupied by some 200-300 Russian troops.

At the airport, Brigadier Adrian Freer, commander of the 5th Airborne Brigade, held urgent talks with the leader of the Russian contingent.

It appeared that the British and Russians had agreed to divide the airport in half - with the British taking control of the south and the Russians of the north. And British troops were eventually allowed into the airport.

However, Brig Freer acknowledged that control of the airport was probably in the hands of the Russians.

There followed what were described as near-farcical scenes, with Russian armoured vehicles apparently trying to drown out Gen Jackson's words by driving around the rain-swept runway on which he staged a short media briefing.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 13, 1999
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