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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 19:24 GMT


The KLA: Out from the shadows

The KLA believes independence for Kosovo is inevitable

By Balkan specialist Tim Judah

The Kosovo Liberation Army - sometimes known by its Albanian initials UCK - was founded at a secret meeting, which took place in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, in early 1993. Its aim is independence for Kosovo, Serbia's overwhelmingly Albanian inhabited southern province.

Kosovo strikes
Until the beginning of last year it consisted of barely a couple of hundred armed men. However following violent events in the Drenica region a year ago the KLA suddenly found itself in command of an uprising, which spread across parts of the province like wildfire.

A leading role in the creation of the KLA was taken by a tiny, clandestine political party called the Levizja Popullore e Kosoves, the Popular Movement for Kosovo. Founded in 1982, the LPK consistently argued that the only way to achieve independence was through violence and an armed insurrection.

Until 1995 though, the LPK was a radical, fringe party. Horrified by the violence that accompanied the destruction of the old Yugoslavia, most Kosovo Albanians hoped that they would achieve their aims through peaceful means, and in this they put their trust in the pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova.

Bosnia's legacy


[ image: Bardhyl Mahumti: Eminence grise]
Bardhyl Mahumti: Eminence grise
When, however, the European Union and other states recognised the borders of the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, that is to say just Serbia and Montenegro following the Dayton Peace Accord for Bosnia in November 1995, Kosovo Albanian society was traumatised. Members of the LPK and the then tiny KLA said: "We told you so."

Then, as now, the LPK and the KLA were not only intent on winning the hearts and minds of the Kosovo Albanians who live inside the province. It was crucial for them to impress the half a million strong community who live and work in Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and elsewhere.

For years they had been asked by the exile government of Mr Rugova's self-proclaimed but phantom Kosovo Republic to pay 3% of their earnings in tax. Now people began to contribute to the KLA's own Homeland Calling fund.

Cheap guns

An opportunity to begin planning a real uprising came unexpectedly in the spring of 1997. Albania, which borders Kosovo, collapsed into anarchy. The looting of military arsenals meant that hundreds of thousands of cheap Kalashnikovs were now on the market and within easy smuggling distance of Kosovo.

At first the KLA took large tracts of land because the Serbs did not fight back. When they did, last summer, the KLA melted away, rather than risk defeat at the hands of a better-armed enemy. To begin with it was a badly organised guerrilla force with commanders acting autonomously and sometimes irresponsibly.


[ image: Adem Demaci: The KLA's
Adem Demaci: The KLA's "semi-detached" spokesman
Today, the KLA is far better organised. It has a military General Staff and a 12-man civilian Political Directorate. The head of the Directorate is Hashim Thaci. He will be at the Rambouillet peace talks.

Other members include Bardhyl Mahmuti, the Swiss based eminence grise of the organisation, Jashar Salihu, the chairman of the Homeland Calling fund, and Pleurat Sejdiu, the London representative of the KLA. All of these men have served time in Yugoslav jails for their beliefs.

Acting in a "semi-detached" fashion is the veteran Kosovar dissident, Adem Demaci. Appointed a spokesman because of his public standing, the KLA does not trust him and his influence within the organisation is limited. He recommended that the KLA boycott the Rambouillet talks, advice which they ignored.

Independence 'inevitable'

While the KLA is prepared to fight on for an independent Kosovo it enters the Rambouillet talks in high sprits. Its aim, at the talks, is less to secure a commitment to independence at the end of a three-year interim period but rather to make sure that this option is not foreclosed.

It also aims to make sure that Nato troops are brought in to enforce any deal, because their presence will mean that the Serbs will no longer be able to fight - and defeat them.

Under the proposed agreement ethnic Albanian police would take over security functions in majority Albanian areas. Since most of the province is majority ethnic Albanian this would suit the KLA as, inevitably, it would provide the backbone for the force. With few Serbs remaining in Kosovo as it is, many of the rest would then leave.

The KLA believes that, either through war or by peaceful means, independence is inevitable. It would surely be hastened if no more Serbs lived in the land they cherish as the cradle of their civilisation.



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Internet Links


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Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Human Rights Watch: Kosovo

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