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Official: Russia To Stay in Kosovo

July 21, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia will maintain a peacekeeping presence in Kosovo for as long as necessary, despite the financial strain, a top general said Wednesday.

``Any peacemaking operation has a long-term character,″ said Lt. Gen. Nikolai Staskov, head of Russia’s Airborne Forces Staff, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The peacekeeping mission _ expected to cost $60 million a year _ is a heavy burden for the cash-strapped Russian government, which has been unable to deliver funds already earmarked in the defense budget.

Also, many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo view the Russian peacekeepers with suspicion due to Moscow’s vocal support of Yugoslavia.

Despite its sympathies, Russia did not provide financial or military assistance to Yugoslavia during the NATO bombing campaign.

Staskov said peacekeepers will always face difficulties, but when ``the local population sees that we have come to them in peace, the conflicting parties will feel respect toward us.″

Under a deal reached with NATO, Russia will maintain a force of 3,600 peacekeepers in Kosovo. According to figures released by the Interfax news agency Wednesday, Russia has deployed 1,214 troops, 56 armored vehicles and 136 automobiles.

The entire peacekeeping force, led by NATO, is expected to have 50,000 troops when it reaches full strength.

In addition to providing peacekeepers, Russia is intent on helping repair war damage in Yugoslavia. On Wednesday, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants said the government would lend Yugoslavia $150 million this year for reconstruction.

The loan will be used to finance goods, equipment and services from Russian suppliers, he said, according to Interfax. The government intends to send diesel fuel, gasoline and natural gas to aid the harvest and help rebuild the most important industries.

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