Face to face with the rebel army

HeadLine: FACE TO FACE WITH THE REBEL ARMY

Daily Record, 25/04/1999, p5
by Shaun Milne at a KLA camp in Kosovo

SAFETY catches click and weapons are cocked as we approach the camp where Kosovo’s rebel soldiers are in training.
Seven uniformed fighters at a makeshift checkpoint swing their Kalashnikovs from their shoulders. Their nervousness is so great you could almost touch it.
These are the men of the Kosovo Liberation Army, training near the Albanian border.
As they go through their paces amid breath-taking mountain scenery, many are haggard and unshaven from countless nights under canvas.
Others are in the fresh-faced flush of youth. Yet all their eyes flash with the same determination – to rid their homeland of the hated Serbs.
Most are refugees from Kosovo, other have returned from Britain, Germany, Switzerland or France to answer the call to arms.
In the past, these men have been relaxed and welcoming when dealing with the western press.
But we meet them less than 24 hours after 100 Serb troops crossed the border to capture a hamlet within artillery range of their camp.
Today, strangers are not welcome. Nervous chatter rises to tense, barked orders in Albanian, and radio messages bounce back and forth between the sentries and their senior officers.
We sit perfectly still in the car, then are ordered out by a young man in fatigues. He’s tall, tanned, about 24, and clearly the leader.
He demands our names, nationalities, papers. Finding us to be Press, he shouts: “Gazateer no welcome” and makes signs to push us back to our car.
The young man threatens us with arrest, saying our presence here jeopardises KLA security.
After reassuring noises from our translator, we are allowed to leave. But only after the guns are raised again to persuade our photographer to hand over film he has taken of the nearby camp.
Beyond these jittery guards, just over a small hill, is the reason for all this tension: a secret training area for around 350 troops, heavily guarded by more sentries.
Divided into sections of 30, they prepare to cross back into Kosovo and attack the Serbs.
They rehearse attacks on mock positions, obeying instructions passed on from commanding officers still carrying on a guerrilla war in Kosovo.
One of those instructions is not to talk to the press, for fear of handing information to the Serbs.
Anyone who disobeys faces being severely beaten, then thrown in an Albanian jail for up to 15 years.
Near the camp, we find two soldiers prepared to speak in return for whisky, cigarettes and a promise of anonymity. But there can be no questions about KLA strategy, troop movements, firepower or strength.
They say as many as 5000 recruits have volunteered to join the cause in recent weeks, many returning from western Europe.
Told about our trouble at the checkpoint, one says: “You have to understand we are at war.
“There could be people who are spying for the Serbs or writing wrong things about us. We cannot take risks.
“We still have families in Kosovo and we have to return to fight, to free Kosovo. If NATO do not send in troops, then we will do it.”
As they speak, the pair look nervously around, seemingly more afraid of their own officers than of raiding Serbs.
One of them, a 25-year-old, tells us: “We want to fight until the end to save our people. We are ready to strike back at Serbia and Milosevic, but we cannot tell where or when.
“We have many fighters still in Kosovo – in the hills and around the villages. God will help us. God is on our side.”
Both young soldiers have fled here from the Kosovar capital, Pristina. The second, a boy of 18, says: “We will free Kosovo with the help of our NATO
friends.
“The Serbs kill our people. If I saw Milosevic with my own eyes I would kill him myself for what he has done to Kosovo, for what he has done to our
people.”

**

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Categories: by Shaun Milne, Daily Record articles, Kosovo

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