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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: The KLA's armed struggle

The KLA has agreed to give up its arms

As the Kosovo Liberation Army signs a deal agreeing to demilitarisation, the BBC's Paul Wood examines the history of the KLA's armed struggle.

Hard core Kosovo Liberation Army activists say they have been battling the Serbs for a century or more - I met volunteers whose fathers and grandfathers joined rebellions against Belgrade - but the current phase of the struggle gained momentum at the signing of the Dayton peace agreement.

There was a huge sense of disappointment among the Kosovo Albanians that their aspirations had not been addressed in the peace accord and that fed the desire of some for an armed struggle.

Kosovo: Special Report
An increasing number of KLA actions were carried out in 1995 and 1996, although the moderate ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, was, as late as 1997, describing the KLA as an invention of the Serbian state security services.

The name KLA was first used in a communiqué to the BBC Albanian service following an action in 1996. The fighters made their first public appearance in November 1997 at the funeral of Kosovo Albanians killed during a police raid to collect taxes.

It was about this time that some of the KLA's émigré leaders decided to approach Western journalists with the aim of winning the propaganda war against Belgrade. They were especially worried at being labelled Islamic fundamentalists and wanted to define their struggle in the Western media as a defensive war of national liberation against an 'oppressive regime'.

I met two of the top leaders Bardhyl Mamuti, now foreign minister in the KLA's provisional government and Jashar Salihu, head of the KLA's fundraising arm 'homeland calling' in a cafe in Geneva in January of 1998.

They told me they would double the number of attacks on Serbian policemen every month in the hopes of drawing the population into a general uprising. They claimed to have numerous armed supporters within Kosovo at that time although independent estimates put the number of KLA volunteers at perhaps a few hundred.

[ image: KLA actions in the field were of limited effect]
KLA actions in the field were of limited effect
Few at that time took their claims seriously but a KLA attack on four Serb policemen in the Drenica region the following month caused a massive Serbian backlash and changed the course of the conflict.

Serb security forces in February 1998, seeking the gunmen, attacked the villages of Likoshan and Cirez. They met no armed resistance but in one place 12 members of a single extended family were killed. Another family lost four of five sons, and one family saw their seven-months-pregnant daughter-in-law shot in the head.

In the wake of these massacres, thousands of ethnic Albanian villagers rushed to join the KLA and the movement was transformed overnight. I have met many KLA officers who say that the Likoshan and Cirez massacres had been for them the personal spur to join up.

Hardly had the funerals taken place however than another immensely significant Serbian police action took place.

Police wanted to arrest Adem Jashari, the leader of the KLA in the village of Prekaz. The police assault lasted two days and Jashari died defending his family. More than 60 people died, more than three-quarters of the civilians.

The course for war had been set and within a few weeks, uniformed KLA soldiers began appearing in Kosovo, making defences, digging in and throwing up checkpoints guarding what they called 'Free Kosova'.

[ image: The KLA vowed: 'We have hearts, we will fight']
The KLA vowed: 'We have hearts, we will fight'
At the high point of the KLA's insurgency 'Free Kosova' encompassed about half of the territory of Kosovo. But it was an illusion. The KLA's only offensive action, at Ohrahovac, was a dismal failure and led to a rout.

It triggered the Serbian summer offensive in 1998 which saw hundreds of thousands of refugees driven into the hills, and which later led President Clinton to issue a threat of air strikes.

I was staying in the main KLA-held town, Malisevo, with a middle-ranking KLA officer and his family. Night after night I questioned them about the KLA's strategy - how were they going to fend off Serbian armour and artillery with only Kalashnikov automatic rifles and hand grenades.

Their only answer was: "We have hearts, we will fight." It is an enduring criticism of the KLA that they were never able to hold territory, never successfully defended a town or village, and in the end had to depend on Nato, a gamble which might not have paid off.

Today the KLA is being transformed into an emergency rescue corps with just 200 handguns between them. It might be seen as something of a humiliation, although political analysts in Kosovo believe that the important thing is that the organisation has kept its structures in place and will be ready to resume a military role if and when Kosovo achieves independence.

Pursuing diplomatic means

That though is the problem for the international community - there was never any peace agreement for Kosovo signed by all the parties and the final status of Kosovo remains unresolved.

On joining the KLA, new recruits used to swear an oath on the Albanian flag that they would fight until the death for a free and independent Kosovo. Their leaders now are pursuing political and diplomatic means to achieve that.

But a month ago I visited Prekaz, site of the KLA's first battle with the Serbian police, and I spoke to Adem Jashari's surviving relatives.

What happens, I asked Rifat, Adem's brother and now the head of the family, if the politicians do not deliver independence.

"We are waiting to see what will happen," he said "but we still have our guns and we can use them again. "

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