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Red Army Holds Farewell Ceremony at Kabul Airport

February 13, 1989

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The Red Army said farewell to Kabul in a ceremony at the frigid airport Monday, then paratroopers in fur hats and padded uniforms decorated with Afghan medals climbed into a jet transport and were flown away.

Some Soviet soldiers remained but officials said they would be gone by Wednesday, the deadline for the Kremlin to have all its forces out of a civil war it entered more than nine years ago.

A U.N. airlift has been suspended because a cargo plane loaded with food and medicine left Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan without clearance and another airline pulled out of the program, U.N. officials said.

A Swedish airline said it was sending a plane to Islamabad and would carry the emergency cargo if thre was no risk to the aircraft or crew, Sweden’s national airline TT reported.

In Islamabad, Afghan guerrillas briefly resumed a Moslem council Monday that was called originally to choose an interim government, but two important leaders did not attend and spokesmen said factional quarrels about power sharing continued.

The guerrillas, who began fighting after a communist coup in April 1978, predict the Marxist government in Kabul will fall soon after the Red Army completes its withdrawal under a U.N.-mediated agreement.

Soviet soldiers entered the country in December 1979 and totaled an estimated 115,000 when the withdrawal began May 15.

At an airport ceremony Monday to which 150 foreign journalists were invited, Lt. Col. Pytor Sardarchuk praised 15 young paratroopers who stood in front of their Antonov-12 transport plane.

″We have helped Afghanistan create order and provided economic supplies and other goods,″ he said. ″Now you are leaving Afghan soil and I want to say thank you very much for your service and to wish you all the best, happiness and health and a safe return home.″

Capt. Alexander Zhadan said: ″The medals on our chest - Afghan medals - bear witness to what we have accomplished. We would like to hope that there will be peace in Afghanistan and that the people of Afghanistan will remember us fondly.″

At least one departing soldier, a 20-year-old, questioned the accomplishments .

″I think it could have been done peacefully,″ he said in answer to a question as he boarded the plane, which took off for Tashkent. He said he thought Soviet intervention ″was all a big mistake.″

Paratroopers waved through the windows as the plane taxied down the runway and took off. It climbed in a tight spiral because of the surrounding mountains and spouted flares to deflect any heat-seeking missiles guerrillas in the mountains might fire.

About 450 Soviet soldiers quietly left the besieged capital Sunday during a snowstorm.

Sardarchuk would not say how many soldiers remained in Kabul after Monday’s ceremony, which had been billed as the deparalong its perimeter.

″It’s a deception of sorts,″ a Soviet diplomat said privately. He and Sardarchuk said the remaining Soviet troops would be gone by Wednesday.

The Soviets completed a food airlift to the capital Sunday, the same day the U.N. effort was suspended.

Ethiopian Airlines delivered 32 tons of wheat and dried milk Friday in what was to be the first of 10 flights, but backed out of the contract.

EgyptAir was the original charter airline, but last week refused to fly to Kabul on safety grounds.

Romero da Silva, a U.N. spokesman, said an EgyptAir Boeing 707 originally scheduled to begin the airlift last Tuesday ″left in the middle of the night Wednesday without any clearance and with our cargo,″ 32 tons of food and medicine.

″We don’t know exactly where″ the cargo is, he said.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, coordinator of the U.N. aid program for Afghanistan, told a Sunday news conference Ethiopian Airlines had refused to continue the airlift. Da Silva said Ethiopian officials told him the insurance premiums lwere too high.

U.N. agencies had hoped to deliver another 360 tons of food, medicine and blankets by Wednesday for the poorest residents of Kabul, which has been swollen by refugees to twice its normal population of 1 million.

″These people are not the ones who will carry the guns,″ one source said of the women and children lining up for food. ″These are people who are hungry and will suffer the most if the situation deteriorates.″

U.N. relief centers opened on Monday to distribute food in some of Kabul’s poorest neighborhoods.

At two relief centers, workers gave packages containing a small can of powdered milk, a 22-pound bag of flour and a blanket to 800 women and to children under age 5. U.N. officials said the rations were meant to supplement regular food supplies and should last a family three weeks.

Update hourly