Angry young refugees are flocking to join KLA

Outsiders say rebel group is no match in tactics, arms for Yugoslav troops

War In Yugoslavia

April 10, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

KUKES, Albania -- Thousands of young Kosovo Albanian refugees spoiling to fight are flocking to join the ranks of the KLA.

Young men and women, outraged at acts committed against their families in Kosovo and hungry for vengeance, line up daily outside a recruiting center for the Kosovo Liberation Army in northern Albania, near the border with Kosovo.

Sprinkled among the would-be enlistees are ethnic Albanians who had been working abroad and have returned to join the fray.

Graffiti on the walls of this refugee-packed town illustrate the prevailing feelings of Kosovars and Albanians: "KLA -- Kukes Is With You." At a complex of empty warehouses on the town's outskirts, hundreds of young KLA recruits can be seen through the iron gates trying on new uniforms and undergoing rudimentary military training.

"It's our duty to liberate Kosovo. We are ready to give our lives for this," said Fatima Ademaj, 30, dressed in her new KLA-issued camouflage fatigues.

She admitted she had never used a gun but said she was determined to fight after her family was expelled by Serbian forces from their home in the Kosovo town of Prizren. The KLA welcomes female recruits, but they are used mainly in noncombat roles.

In addition to enlistments from among the refugees, many of the ethnic Albanian men who stayed behind in Kosovo are linking up with KLA guerrilla units in the mountains and forests of Kosovo, their families say.

The KLA high command has forbidden interviews with journalists, but a source close to the rebels here claimed that there have been 15,000 recruits since the expulsions began two weeks ago.

Even if that number is exaggerated, there is no denying that support for the KLA is widespread. The ultimate aim of many people is to oust the Serbs from Kosovo and unite that province's 1.6 million ethnic Albanians with their 3.3 million brethren in Albania.

Ejup Keveziu, 27, an engineering student in Vienna, Austria, said he had quit his studies and had come to Albania to join the KLA "as soon as I heard about the terrible situation." Freeing Kosovo from the Serbs "is the hope of every Albanian," he said.

"We tried to solve our problems by peaceful means, but that was just a dream," said Muhamet Kryeziu, 45, of Drapre, Kosovo, who said he believes that the KLA will win the war -- "with NATO's help, of course."

Seated on a tractor in a litter-strewn refugee encampment, Kryeziu said that "so far, [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic is not fighting the KLA. He is just massacring people who are unable to fight."

Western experts question the KLA's efficacy as a fighting force and say it lacks the equipment to challenge Serbian muscle. According to a Western military expert in the region, the KLA fighters have only rifles and a few rocket-propelled grenades.

They also could use better tactics, said the expert. Classic guerrilla tactics call for rebels to strike their enemy and vanish. In a year of fighting Serbian forces, the KLA has tried to hold onto territory and has been hurt as a result.

Albanian emigres have been the KLA's chief support in terms of money and weapons, but there are increasing calls for the KLA to be armed by Western governments.

With tensions rising between Yugoslavia and Albania since the expulsion of nearly a half-million ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in the past two weeks, a cross-border skirmish flared yesterday, apparently involving Yugoslav forces and the guerrilla KLA, Western monitors reported.

No casualties were reported in the firefight along the border near the town of Tropoje.

During the clash, at least two mortars landed on the Albanian side of the border, said a spokesman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Shots were fired into Yugoslavia from the Albanian side as well.

There has been an anxious mood all along the border, which is one reason United Nations refugee officials say they would like the 100,000 Kosovars encamped here to move farther into Albania.

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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