Profile 09 Apr 09

KLA : From Guerilla Wars to Party Plenums

The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that came to the fore in the mid-1990s, demanding the unification of Albanian territories in former Yugoslavia with Albania.

By Altin Raxhimi

The political parties behind the KLA were two fringe groups of émigrés and nationalist political prisoners, the People’s League of Kosovo, LPK, and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, LKCK, which advocated an armed struggle for the liberation of the Albanians in former Yugoslavia.
These groups’ aims were different from those of the more mainstream Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, led by Ibrahim Rugova, which advocated a peaceful struggle for the independence of Kosovo.
Their focus was Kosovo, which was where most LPK members came from and where the Albanian population in former Yugoslavia was concentrated.
The KLA organised armed resistance to, and conflict with, Serbian security forces during the period of 1997 to 1999, initially using hit-and-run tactics. Later, they claimed to have liberated territory in Kosovo. They achieved more fame as a result of the harsh reprisals the Serbian security forces took against the civilian Albanian population.
The KLA core leadership dated back to the nationalist demonstrations Kosovo Albanians staged in 1981, when protesters demanded republican status for the then autonomous province. But it was never rigidly structured, more resembling an association of clans than a hierarchical military force.
In the early 1990s, following the fall of the communist regime in Albania, LPK officials established a presence there too. There they sought to train themselves militarily and smuggle weapons into Kosovo. These actions intensified and became easier after 1997, when Albania became awash with weapons after the collapse of various pyramid savings schemes led to a period of virtual anarchy.
They also formed close ties with then ruling Socialist Party of Albania, which tolerated the arming and movement of KLA forces in Albania along the Albanian border.
During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the KLA announced it was forming a provisional government and enlisting young Kosovo Albanians to fight in Kosovo. In Albania, it tried to build up a more institutional army, equipped with its own intelligence unit, military police, logistics operations and more, according to several books on the KLA and interviews with its leaders.

It established itself in Durres and Tirana in central Albania, but also used at least ten bases along the border with Kosovo and three training and logistics centres further inland, according to several KLA members from Albania.
In August 1999, after NATO moved into Kosovo and the province was handed over to the United Nations to administer, the KLA was disbanded under international pressure. Some its members found new jobs with the Kosovo Protection Force, TMK, and with the Kosovo Police Service.
Its leaders now formed their own parties. A Drenica group within the LPK formed the Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Hashim Thaci, currently Prime Minister of Kosovo. Ramush Haradinaj, the KLA commander of the western Dukagjini area, along the border with Albania, formed the Alliance for the Kosovo’s Future.
Several former senior KLA officials were involved in the conflicts that spilled over from Kosovo into other ethnic Albanian areas of former Yugoslavia, namely, the Presevo valley of southern Serbia and western Macedonia.
They were active in the formation of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, a guerilla force in southern Serbia, and in the Albanian National Army, ANA, which operated in Macedonia.
Two ANA leaders, Gezim Ostreni and Ali Ahmeti, had once been active in the KLA in the Dukagjini and Prizren areas of Kosovo. Ahmeti and Ostreni have since formed the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which currently forms part of the coalition government in Macedonia, and which Ahmeti leads.

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