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Yugoslavia: Russian Ships Sail With More Kosovo Troops

Moscow, 8 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian news media say the first three ships carrying men and equipment for Russia's Kosovo peacekeeping force left the Black Sea port of Tuapse today. The ships will dock next Wednesday with 180 men, 47 vehicles and supplies at the Greek port of Salonika. Two other Russian ships head for Salonika on Saturday. The combined units, with 475 men and 120 vehicles, will then travel overland to Kosovo, where the Russian contingent of 3,600 men is being assembled as part of the NATO-led KFOR force. More Russian transport ships carrying 540 men and 140 vehicles will leave Black Sea ports for Greece on July 23.

Bulgaria said today Russia has asked permission for 15 landing ships to pass through Bulgarian territorial waters, and authority for 17 troop-carrying trains to transit Bulgaria. Sofia yesterday granted Russia permission for aircraft to overfly Bulgaria to Kosovo. Parliament is expected to approve the new requests by this weekend.

A Russian government spokesman said Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is considering a trip to Kosovo later this month. No firm dates were announced.

Meanwhile, Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic reportedly arrived in Kosovo today to meet Orthodox church officials and leaders of the Serb and international community. Djindjic said the aim of the talks was to secure the return of Serbs to Kosovo. Many Serbs have fled, fearing reprisals by ethnic Albanians.

The commander of the German peacekeeping contingent in Pristina said six suspects were arrested today after arsonists set fire to 16 houses in the old Serbian quarter of Prizren. General Fritz von Korff thanked city firefighters and the 150 German troops who joined in the rescue effort, but lamented the "indifference" of Prizren's population to the blazes. He said some citizens refused to let rescuers into their homes to get water to extinguish the fires.

The German military police registered 91 incidents in the German sector yesterday, including theft, pillages and the fires.

Finally, British defence secretary George Robertson has called for the removal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, saying it would herald a new dawn for the Balkans.

Robertson, who is visiting British forces in Kosovo, said in Pristina today he welcomed the demonstrations against Milosevic in several Serb towns and cities. He said it showed that ordinary Serbs were beginning to recognize the damage Milosevic had done to their name.

Demonstrations against Milosevic and petitions calling on him to step down have been organized in several parts of Serbia in the last few days. Another is planned for tonight in the southern Serb town of Prokuplje. But commentators say there are few signs so far of a united opposition drive.