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Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA]
Ushtria Clirimtare E Kosoves [UCK]

During the war in former Yugoslavia, over 5,000 ethnic Albanians fought together with Croat and Muslim military formations. When the policy of non-violent resistance failed to make any progress, some ethnic Albanians turned to violence. Rugova's position began to be undermined when the Kosovo Question was left off the agenda at the Dayton Peace talks in November 1995. Younger Kosovars increasingly began to ask why they should hold fast to nonviolence when the Bosnian Serbs were rewarded for their violence and brutality with their own quasi-state within Bosnia. The Kosovo Liberation Army -- KLA in English acronym or UCK in the Albanian acronym -- first appeared in Macedonia in 1992. In 1995 the beginnings of armed resistance to the Serbs appeared, when the KLA carried out isolated attacks on Serbian police. The KLA appeared for the first time in public in June 1996, assuming reponsibility for a series of acts of sabotage committed against the police stations and policemen in Kosovo and Metohija. After these bombings, Serb authorities named it a terrorist organization. Since 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army has conducted attacks on Serbian police and other officials. They did not attack Yugoslave Army military facilities, rather, their emphasis was ambushes of police patrols and attacks on Albanians who collaborated with Serbian authorities.

The Kosovo Liberation Army is not a unified military organization subordinated to a political party or civil authority, but rather functions as a guerilla movement consisting of lightly armed fighters. However, its members carry visible insignia and execute the assignments of their command in a disciplined way. The KLA's strength has swelled from about 500 active members at the beginning of 1998 to a force of at least a few thousand men [though some estimates suggest that there are as many as 12,000 to 20,000 armed guerrillas]. The KLA is organized in small compartmentalized cells rather than a single large rebel movement. The KLA's strength is apparently divided between a maneuverable strike nucleus of a few hundred trained commandos, and the much larger number of locally organized members active throughout the region. The KLA typically performs actions in smaller groups, at times as few as three to five men.

Many members of KLA units are professionally trained, and include former Yugoslav army soldiers. The group functions very professionally underground, due in part to fact that some of its leaders are former members of UDBA [Internal State Security Service], the army and the police.

The Kosovo Liberation Army is alleged by Serbia to include about 1,000 foreign mercenaries from Albania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Muslims) and Croatia. Among the mercenaries it is alleged that there also British and German instructors. Most of these mercenaries are said to be Albanian nationals, especially former Albanian army officers, policemen and members of the state security forces. According to Serbian accounts, the primary KLA training camps in Albania are Ljabinot near Tirana, Tropoja near the Yugoslav-Albanian border, Kuks and Bajram Curi near the Yugoslav-Albanian border. Serbia claims that these locations are also the headquarters for the command and units of the Albanian army and police for the northeastern part of Albania and the centers for recruiting followers of the overthrown Albanian president Sali Berisha.

The KLA initially conducted hit-and-run attacks against the Serbian special forces police operating in the province. Typically, KLA units fire on Serbian patrols, trying to draw them into the woods where they will be ambushed. Initially, the buildings and personnel of the Serbian Special Police were not targeted, nor were high police officials and police vehicles. After the March 1998 Drenica massacre the KLO engaged in a wider scope of actions. In April and May 1998 there were a number of attacks on police units and facilities and attacks on the Military Police working with the Serbian police. In May and June 1998 larger-scale actions consisted actions to defend villages on important crossroads in order to form in the west of Kosovo [between Pec and Djakovica] a line of liberated territories and to disrupt communications between local police and Army units and the main forces in eastern Kosovo. The Yugoslav Army responded to these actions with heavy weaponry. Other KLA actions in this period included attacks on roads to isolate dispersed police stations and control points needing daily supplies.

Until March 1998 the KLO used only light arms, but more recently KLA forces have been armed with assault rifles, along with Ambrust and Soviet-designed RPG shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket launchers, mortars, recoilless rifles, anti-aircraft machineguns, and mortars. The KLA equipment includes some weapons from the Second World War, such as PPS-41 automatic rifles and the MP-40, "Mosine-Nagant", though the inventory of modern arms, ammunition, telecommunication equipment, and other supplies is much larger. The KLA has obtained weapons used by the former Yugoslav People's Army, as well as other weapons produced in China and Singapore.

The KLA is said to have two command centers -- one is abroad, and the other center is in Pristina, where the KLA has a well-developed logistics base. Direct contact with Kosovo and Metohija is maintained via Gnjilane, Vitina, Glogovac and Pristina. It is evident that the KLA has a well-organized surveillance apparatus, and that an organized word of mouth messenger service is operating to supplement established radio communications links.

Both Rugova and the KLA have insisted upon independence for Kosovo. The KLA's professed long-term goal is to unite the Albanian populations of Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania into a greater Albania. Until recently, the Kosovars viewed granting Kosovo the status of a third republic within Yugoslavia as a transitional stage in achieving Kosovo's independence. This option was attractive to the international community as it did not result in changing the international border. But Serbia rejected this concept, taking the position that Kosovo remained Serbia's internal matter. And by mid-1998 the Kosovar view of this concept was equally negative, with an international protectorate and demilitarization seen as interim steps towards independence.

Aside from causing casualties and deaths, the armed resistance provided Milosevic the pretext for his brutal crack-down. In late February 1998, following an unprecedented series of clashes in Kosovo between Serbian police forces and members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Serbian police raided villages in Kosovo's Drenica region, a KLA stronghold. The police reportedly burned homes and killed dozens of ethnic Albanians in these raids. Thousands of ethnic Albanians in Pristina protested Serb police actions, and were subsequently attacked by the police with tear gas, water cannons, and clubs. As a result of the fighting, thousands of Kosovar Albanians were displaced from their homes, many taking refuge with host families, while a smaller proportion (several thousand) took to the hills and forests.

Over the summer of 1998 large-scale fighting broke out, resulting in the displacement of some 300,000 people. Since July 1998 Milosevic steadily increased the level of violence against the Albanian majority. Estimates put the number of deaths at several hundred. The local economy collapsed due to the Serbian embargo which began in early 1998. A ceasefire was agreed in October 1998 which enabled refugees to find shelter, averting an impending humanitarian crisis over the winter. A Verification Mission was deployed under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However, violence continued and the situation worsened significantly in January 1999. A peace conference, held in Paris, broke up on 19 March with the refusal of the Yugoslav delegation to accept a peaceful settlement. At 1900 hours GMT on 24 March, NATO forces began air operations over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Milosevic's estimate that he could wipe out the KLA in five to seven days was wrong. As of early May 1999 the KLA had increased in size to as much as 8,000 or 10,000, an increase of several thousand combatants. The number of supporters has also risen to about 20,000. As Serbian military units are destroyed or driven into hiding by NATO air operations, there is a resurgence of UCK activity. The hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kosovar Albanians are taking shelter in locations which often coincide with many of the UCK controlled areas, and it appears that some sanctuary is being provided for these people within these areas. The KLA is receiving recruits from the refugee population, in Albania primarily, and they are training aggressively. They have a broader base of support than they had before, and they continue to acquire or gather weapons, some of which they gather from Serb forces if they win the engagements. The KLA is attacking, blowing up vehicles, and inflicting fatalities on the VJ and the MUP with increasing regularity. Generally the KLA can't move freely, and they do not control extensive amounts of territory.

The KLA increased rather dramatically in size in the first two months of Operation Allied Force. On March 24th the US Government estimated that they had a total of 6,000 to 8,000 people in Kosovo and Albania with perhaps 2,000 to 4,000 in Kosovo -- up to half may have been in Kosovo at any one time. By late May the US Government estimated that the KLA had grown to a total of 17,000 to 20,000 in both Kosovo and Albania, with perhaps as many as 15,000 in Kosovo at any one time. According to US Government estimates, KLA training had improved, the quality of the recruits was getting better, and the quality of weaponry was also getting better. To the extent the KLA succeeded in battle, they were able to acquire some weapons from the Serb forces -- both the army forces [VJ] and the special police [MUP]. The KLA also continued to acquire weapons on world markets.

Sources and Resources

  • Home Page of the Republic of Kosova
  • Kosova Liberation Peace Movement the Albanian Question

  • "The latest massacres warn of a new genocide targeting about 2 million Muslims in Kosova" Nida'ul Islam Magazine (Call of Islam) April - May 1998
  • The Kosovo Liberation Army: Does Clinton Policy Support Group with Terror, Drug Ties? US Senate Republican Policy Committee 31 March 1999 -- The KLA's uncertain origins, political program, sources of funding, or political alliances include numerous reports that the KLA is closely involved with t he extensive Albanian crime network , including allegations that a major portion of the KLA finances are derived from that network, mainly proceeds from drug trafficking; and terrorist organizations motivated by the ideology of radical Islam, including assets of Iran and of the notorious Osama bin-Ladin.
  • Kosovo "freedom fighters" financed by organised crime By Michel Chossudovsky - 10 April 1999 -- The truth of the matter is that the KLA is sustained by organised crime with the tacit approval of the United States and its allies. The multibillion dollar Balkans narcotics trade has played a crucial role in "financing the conflict" in Kosovo in accordance with Western economic, strategic and military objectives
  • Chossudovsky's frame-up of the KLA By Michael Karadjis Green Left Weekly ssue #360 May 12, 1999 -- Michel Chossudovsky, a professor of economics at the University of Ottawa, has set out the most meticulous frame-up in a piece entitled "Freedom Fighters Financed by Organised Crime." Full of half-truths, assumptions and innuendoes about the KLA's alleged use of drug money, Chossudovsky's article seeks to discredit the KLA as a genuine liberation movement representing the aspirations of the oppressed Albanian majority.

  • SOME ASPECTS OF CONTEMPORARY TERRORISM Milan Milosevic, Ljubomir Stajic, Police Academy Col. Milan V. Petkovic, Army of Yugoslavia,"Meaning" Jun 1998. FEDERAL MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS [BELGRADE - September 1998]
  • Albanian Terrorists Milan V. Petkovic, 1998 -- A particular intensification of Iranian activity in Albania and Kosovo and Metohija was registered after the meting of Islamic countries held in Jeddah in 1994, and the meeting of the D-8 group of Islamic countries held in Istanbul in 1996. Actually, the Balkan peninsula was chosen as a beachhead for an organized penetration of Islam into Europe. The escalation of terrorism in Kosovo and Metohija in 1997 and 1998, marked the beginning of a new phase of the long term plan that Teheran has prepared for the Balkans.
  • Serbia: Former Security Operative Interviewed : FBIS-EEU-97-363 : 29 Dec 1997
  • BETA Assesses Effects of UCK Operations : FBIS-EEU-98-134 : 14 May 1998
  • BETA Examines Options for Kosovo : FBIS-EEU-98-176 : 25 Jun 1998
  • Slovene Military Analyst on Kosovo--Part 3 : FBIS-EEU-98-265 : 22 Sep 1998

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