Newsday - Russia examines Kosovo peacekeeping

By MIHAELA ARMASELU - Associated Press Writer

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Despite a near-mishap, Russia's defense minister arrived today for a first-hand look at the Kosovo peacekeeping mission, which he has criticized for failing to bring stability to the southern Yugoslav province.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev met with Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, the commander of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, and German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, who is visiting German peacekeepers in the Balkans.

Sergeyev's arrival from the Yugoslav capital Belgrade was delayed for several hours because of fog at Pristina's airport. During the landing, NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Henning Philipp said the Russian plane "tilted at a dangerous angle" but sustained no serious damage.

Russia's Interfax news agency said the plane's left wing struck the runway but "thanks only to the mastery of the pilot, the airliner was able to land."

Sergeyev has been sharply critical of the international peacekeeping mission. He told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency on Thursday that so far, NATO's results "cannot be called positive."

Sergeyev also said Russia might reconsider its role in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission if "serious violations" of the settlement agreements by the U.N. and NATO-led peacekeepers continue, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.

"KFOR is taking a waiting position and exerts virtually no influence on the situation," Sergeyev said, referring to the NATO-led Kosovo Force. The Itar-Tass news agency said Sergeyev would "put bluntly the question of failure by the KFOR leadership to fulfill the U.N. mandate," during his talks with international officials in Kosovo.

During a news conference today, however, Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander for Europe, took issue with Sergeyev's criticism.

"I think the records show very clearly that KFOR is doing a great job and that's why we think it's a really good thing that the Russian minister was here today to hear directly what a great job KFOR is doing," Clark said.

Clark, who visited the Russian contingent today, said Sergeyev's views were not shared by Russian troops serving in Kosovo.

"They told me the things are going extremely well," Clark said. "I think our cooperation with the Russian soldiers on the ground is just outstanding."

Alliance peacekeepers arrived in the province in June after a 78-day air war against Yugoslavia. The bombardment was meant to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt a crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants and accept a peace deal.

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