- RUSSIA'S initial dash to
Kosovo may have had less to do with politics than with the protection
of military secrets in underground hangars at Pristina's Slatina airport,
it was suggested yesterday.
- The 270 soldiers who embarrassed Nato by beating alliance
forces to the Kosovo capital returned to Bosnia yesterday as mysteriously
as they had arrived. The airfield was one of the jewels in the crown
of the late President Tito's formidable defence network.
- The two western taxiways of the north-south runway lead
directly into a mountain, continuing for hundreds of yards inside.
- In Tito's day schoolchildren would be taken on trips
to the facility. During the decade of President Milosevic's repression,
it has become one of the inner sanctums of his security machine, with
civilian access barred.
- Sources at Jane's Defence Weekly speculated yesterday
that the Russians may have had an interest in keeping Nato nations away
from Slatina while the hangars and storage areas were cleared. The sources
suggested that Slatina could have housed air defence and missile systems
unfamiliar to the West that had been recently sold or hired to Belgrade
in breach of sanctions.
- Among the hardware the Yugoslav Army may have had inside
the underground facility are SA10 surface-to-air missiles and a Czech-designed
triangulation device, known as "Tamara", capable of tracking
- An RAF officer in the British sector of Slatina said
that during the first few days of Russian control, "the stuff was
pouring out of here". The officer, who was allowed into the Russian
sector of the base only days ago, said Slatina was one of the most impressive
military facilities he had seen.
- Louis Garneau, Nato's Kosovo spokesman, said the Canadian
Army had been unsuccesful in monitoring what the Russians were up to.
On Saturday night, for the first time in their month-long occupation of
the airfield, the Russians allowed a few reporters on to the western
- Attempts to view the tunnels into the mountain were
thwarted and officers insisted that the hangars inside the mountain were
empty. There was evidence that Nato had attempted to bomb one of the massive
steel doors protecting the tunnels but the Russians said it was still
possible for aircraft to taxi in and out.
- Local Albanians have always maintained that Slatina
was used to house chemical weapons, and a source at Jane's Defence Weekly
said that similar facilities in Iraq had been used in this way. He pointed
out, however, that accusations that the Serbs had used chemical weapons
in the Bosnian conflict were largely unfounded, and there was little proof
that they had been employed in Kosovo. Officially, the Yugoslav Army
said Slatina was always used to house Mig21 and 29 aircraft.
- Major Paul Young, a British Kfor spokesman, said Slatina's
tunnels may at last be opened to the press this week. The Russians, however,
were less sure, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mikhail Koftunyenko said permission
could only come from senior levels within the Russian Army.
- As the initial and most controversial deployment of
270 Russians drove north to Podujevo yesterday, there was a sense at
Kfor headquarters that the mystery of what was in Slatina will remain