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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 07:38 GMT
Kosovo's cadets forge ahead
With the UN proposal for Kosovo's final status envisaging a new security force, the BBC's Patrick Jackson visits Pristina's fledgling military academy to meet the cadets.

Cadets lower the Albanian flag at the end of the academy day

"The future starts here," reads the sign above the entrance to the academy, based in the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) training centre on a hill above the once Serbian-run city.

Judging by the Albanian national flags around the site, the future at Pristina's two-year-old military academy is distinctly Albanian but the 23 cadets within are training for Kosovo, says Maj Valon Ahmeti, one of its officers.

"We accept the best cadets, male or female, Albanian or non-Albanian - it is important to be Kosovans, people from this country," he told the BBC News website.

Of the 23 enrolled, 22 are ethnic Albanians and one a Bosnian Muslim from Pristina - hardly the multi-ethnic mix advocated by the international community for tomorrow's Kosovo.

"We don't talk politics at the academy," says Capt Berat Shala, head of the academy.

Hard training

Recruitment to the academy is fiercely competitive. The latest batch of cadets, nine men and three women, were chosen from among 500 applicants.

They join the 10 young men and one woman selected in the first year, and it is planned to take in a further 14 this year.

Blerand Hasanaj, 21, is one of those putting in four years of intensive study and training in uniform under the sharp eyes of Capt Shala and Maj Ahmeti, who are both Albanian graduates of the United States' Citadel military college in South Carolina.

Blerand Hasanaj (left) waits as his room is inspected
Order reigns in the cadets' rooms

"My day starts at 0500," he says.

"You get up and shower, then an hour's training, then breakfast. I have a 24-hour schedule with no free time except at weekends. Everything is scheduled, waking, sleeping, going for a coke. It's study time, training time, exercise, lectures.

"We are not allowed to sleep until 2300. So it's six hours' sleep. It was hard at the beginning but now it's normal for us."

The academy's programme is based on the US Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) course, offering a broad education married to strict discipline. Academic subjects range from marketing to liberal arts.

The school's concept appears to be injecting professionalism into the KPC, a force which is part-paramilitary and part-regular army.

KLA heroes

The KPC, a National Guard-like civil emergencies force, was set up in 1999 following Nato's ejection of Serbian forces and it absorbed many members of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.

Monument to dead KLA fighter on road from Pristina to Mitrovica
Monuments to dead KLA fighters are a common sight in Kosovo

KPC officers have until now been largely either former KLA field commanders or ex-Yugoslav Army officers.

If the final status process is held up, theoretically the cadets will graduate as KPC lieutenants.

Otherwise, they will serve in a Kosovo Security Force, planned to have up to 3,300 members under the UN final status plans.

KSF tasks are defined as "crisis response, explosive ordinance disposal and civil protection", suggesting it too will function much like a National Guard.

However, the atmosphere at the training centre, which occupies the former technical faculty of Pristina University, is decidedly martial.

Albanian double-headed black plaster eagles with red eyes decorate the perimeter while a mural of a KLA leader, Hamez Jashari, looks down on the staircase up to the academy.

Hamez was killed along with his KLA brother Adem during an infamous attack by Serbian forces on a village in 1998 which left nearly 60 people dead, including many women and children.

While nobody mentions the KLA in conversation at the academy, a strong current of nationalism is palpable at the academy where the school day ends with the lowering of the Albanian flag.

Respected career

It has always been Blerand's dream to be an officer and serve his country, going to the very top "if I deserve it".

Cadets outside the American University in Kosovo
Cadets attend some courses at the American University in Kosovo

"My family are proud that I am here and are busy waiting another two years for me to finish," he says.

Fellow cadet Arbresha Brahmani, 20, brings a cultural dimension to academy life, organising trips to Pristina's National Theatre.

"I think that some people have the attitude that women should not be in the army and are not aware of how women should be respected in society but I think differently," she says, speaking excellent English, as does Blerand.

"Things are changing here for the better. If a woman believes that she can make a career now, she can, but she has to believe it."

But for her, like for Blerand, the main reason for going to the academy remains patriotic fervour.

"I would like to contribute to my country," she says. "It deserves support."

The question is, which country?

This is the first in a short series of features from Kosovo. Next - uncertain times in the Serbian stronghold of Mitrovica.

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