The first batch of armed PLA soldiers entered Hong Kong last night as villagers prepared to welcome thousands more. A mixed contingent of 509 members of the army, navy and air force crossed the Lok Ma Chau border in 39 vehicles about 9 pm. The troops arrived at the Huangguang checkpoint 30 minutes early and had to wait before they were allowed through. The first jeep cleared Customs and other formalities at about 8.45 pm. The other vehicles followed and waited at the Lok Ma Chau restricted area until 9pm. They then drove to Sek Kong Camp, Stonecutters Island, Stanley Fort and Prince of Wales Barracks to take up their duties at midnight. Led by Xiong Ziren, Political Commissar of the PLA Garrison in Hong Kong, the troops were the first Chinese soldiers to cross the border carrying weapons. They brought in 464 light weapons, mainly rifles and side arms. The troops in about seven open-topped trucks stood rigidly to attention, maintaining the position during the journey from Shenzhen to their billets in Hong Kong. The forces were greeted by Assistant Secretary for Security James Chan Yam-min at Lok Ma Chau. In addition to jeeps, trucks, lorries, coaches and military vehicles, the convoy included a fire engine and a street-sweeping truck. San Tin villagers set up a seven-metre by three-metre banner made of hundreds of light bulbs and wires at the Lok Ma Chau roundabout. Villagers crowding the pavements waved to the PLA as their vehicles passed. Some soldiers smiled and waved in return. Wong Chi-wah, spokesman for the Association of the North District People for the Celebration of the Return of Hong Kong, said villagers turned up voluntarily. 'We haven't organised a welcome. But we will have a large-scale ceremony for the 4,000 soldiers entering the territory early today,' he said. 'We are checking the banners and the decorations. We hope to do the best and let the soldiers see how they are warmly welcomed by Hong Kong people.' More than 5,000 villagers throughout the New Territories were expected to crowd the Jockey Club Road near Sheung Shui and Fanling to receive 2,000 soldiers entering from Lok Ma Chau in 215 vehicles at 6 am. Another 1,300 personnel in 174 vehicles will enter via Man Kam To and 380 in 28 vehicles via Sha Tau Kok. The vehicles will include 21 armoured cars. A coach carrying Chinese naval officers in a convoy of military personnel broke down on Tuen Mun Highway near Ting Kau bridge shortly after entering Hong Kong from Shenzhen last night. The coach delayed other vehicles from getting to their new bases but the fault was repaired quickly.