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Thursday, June 11, 1998 Published at 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK

Rebel leader talks to the BBC

BBC Correspondent Ben Brown talks to senior KLA officer, Shaban Shala

A leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army tells the BBC's Ben Brown: "We will not lay down arms."
Little reliable information is available about the Kosovo Liberation Army which first came to the world's attention in 1996 when it claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in Kosovo.

Members of the KLA were rarely seen in public until late last year, when three heavily-armed and masked men appeared at a funeral of a Kosovo Albanian shot by Serbian police.

KLA officer Shaban Shala: 'The Albanian nation has no choice but to fight'
BBC Correspondent Ben Brown travelled to a remote and secret location in the disputed province where he talked exclusively to one of the guerrilla army's commanders - a man known as the Montgomery of the KLA.

Shaban Shala told the BBC the KLA already controlled 40% of Kosovo and said he was confident they would succeed in their attempt to liberate the province.

"I truly believe the KLA and the Kosovo people will win the war, no matter what the sacrifice."

[ image: Shaban Shala: the Montgomery of Kosovo]
Shaban Shala: the Montgomery of Kosovo
Vowing to continue the confrontation, he said: "Ours is a fight for freedom."

Another KLA commander has warned that the conflict could spread beyond Kosovo - and warned the KLA might even try to take on targets in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

"First of all we want to liberate Kosovo," he said. "Already the fight is unequal. If it becomes necessary, and if the fighting does not go well ... then we will undertake whatever steps are necessary at that time."

He vowed that he was ready to sacrifice his life for the freedom of Kosovo.

"It is my biggest wish. Freedom is more valuable than life."

[ image: The trouble in Kosovo has been building  for some time]
The trouble in Kosovo has been building for some time
The KLA says it has captured a large amount of military equipment, including a helicopter, during clashes with Serbian police and army units.

Until recently, the main support - both political and financial - for the KLA came from Kosovo Albanian emigres in Western Europe and the US.

However, as the long-standing tensions in Kosovo increasingly erupted into open clashes, the support for the KLA among Kosovo Albanians started to grow. Many of them have become impatient with the failure of the peaceful resistance advocated by their political leadership.

Problems for the political leadership

If the emergence - and apparent military success - of the KLA presented Kosovo Albanians with a stark choice, it could also be said to force the hand of their political leadership.

The political leader of the Kosovo Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova, has condemned the actions of the KLA, but stopped short of denouncing them as a terrorist organisation, as urged by the US.

The main question, though, is whether the actions of the KLA will bring about a change in the position of the ethnic Albanian political leadership in Kosovo.

[ image: Scores have died in the Kosovo violence]
Scores have died in the Kosovo violence
Until now, Mr Rugova and his followers have advocated dialogue with the Serbian authorities, and recently began regular, bi-lateral talks aimed at ending the dispute.

But with Serbian operations in Kosovo continuing, there is no guarantee that the talks process will last long enough to produce results.

If the Serbian authorities continue to regard Kosovo as an internal - rather than an international - problem, the Kosovo Albanian leadership may have little choice but to abandon its peaceful option.

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