War In The Balkans: KLA's ragged army imposes draft
Thursday 01 April 1999
The soldiers were not there to protect the Kosovo Albanians fleeing the Serbian army's savage assault; they were seeking new blood for the fight that goes on.
Along the border road, and in the main street of Kukes, and south of Kukes on the main road to the Albanian capital, Tirana, uniformed soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army set up roadblocks and started searching for young men fleeing the Serbs.
"I want to go with my family - if they let me go," said 23-year-old Binak Likaj, who was leaning against the plastic sheet covering a tractor- trailer parked in a roadside camp. "The KLA is recruiting soldiers for the army to go back to fight."
He looked nervous, as 10 guerrillas were standing around at the gate to the camp. "I want to go with my family," he repeated.
Fatmir Krasniqi, 21, was forcibly recruited to the struggle by the KLA at the Kosovo-Albania border crossing at Morini, where he was waiting for news of his older brother, Flamur. Hours before, their mother, Mihirie, had died in Kukes hospital. Mihirje's heart problem had proved too much for the terrifying 21-hour walk out from Kosovo.
"They took Fatmir last night, but I went and showed them the death certificate for my wife, so they released him for one or two days," said his father, Muharrem Krasniqi.
He had managed to shepherd four of his children - Fatmir, Azem, 19, and daughters Mihirie and Shote - out of Kosovo, all the time carrying his wife on a stretcher the 11 miles from their home city of Prizren.
Muharrem had ordered his eldest son, Flamur, to split off from the main group with his pregnant wife and child, so that if the Serbs attacked them some of the family at least might survive.
But Muharrem has no intention of fleeing any further. "If I can get the girls settled somewhere, I want to go and fight with my sons," he said firmly.
Many other Kosovar refugees said they shared his feeling. They wanted to return to battle, but first were determined to ensure that their women and children were safe.
"I want to go and fight back, but only after I settle my family somewhere," said Asllan Kreyziu, leaning against his cousin's new Golf, parked amid a sea of tractors in a temporary camp. "Otherwise I will not know where they are. It is not suicide to go and fight for Kosovo's independence."
Mr Kreyziu, who is married and has three children, added: "We left a lot of property behind. My uncle has worked for 20 years in Germany and everything we own is there.
"We are not immigrants, that is where we belong, and we are not giving up that easily."
Other relatives - there are about 300 Kreyziu family members from the village of Rugova, in southern Kosovo - were not so keen. Two young men squatting on a small patch of grass surrounded by tractor-trailers loaded with children told of their dilemma.
The villagers wanted to leave last Thursday, before the Serbs attacked. "But the local [Albanian] authorities told us not to flee, to stay in our houses," said Tefik Kreyziu, 21. "On Friday we were shelled and all the houses were set on fire. Some people were trapped inside their houses and killed.
"If I am asked to go and fight, I will, but everything is burning there ... we will get killed."
His mother chipped in: "We want him to come with us, he has to look after us. If he goes back, who will do that?"
But her son's chances of escaping the draft look slim. Ten KLA soldiers were manning the main gate of the makeshift camp, set up overnight on flat ground around the walled electricity station.
The rebels were stopping each trailer, van and car that was leaving, peering through the windows and under plastic awnings in search of men of military age.
Along the narrow, rutted mountain road south from the Morini border crossing, guerrillas have set up recruiting checkpoints.
Most of the buses fanning out towards towns all over Albania were full of women and children. But here and there a few mini-vans and trucks could be seen setting off full of young men.
Presumably they were heading along the mountain road to a village alleged to be the site of a KLA training camp.
"If they ever want to go back to their homes, they have to fight," said Eduard Myslia, an Albanian from Kukes, where thousands of the refugees are still milling about. If they don't go to fight for Kosovo, who will?"
The Kosovo rebels are wary of admitting their activities in Albania. They fear the recruitment drive may make the country a target for the Yugoslav army.
But if President Slobodan Milosevic continues to defy Nato's demands, the KLA may find itself supplied with Western military equipment and training in the near future.
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