Kosovo or bust, KLA guerrillas ready to fight
April 15, 1999
YUGOSLAV-ALBANIAN BORDER (CNN) -- Evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army is preparing a comeback in its battle against Serb-led Yugoslav forces has been uncovered by CNN.
Correspondent Mike Boettcher was given exclusive access to the KLA's fourth brigade high in the fog-bound mountains this week along the Yugoslav-Albanian border.
Since NATO attacks on Yugoslavia began three weeks ago, there has been little sign of the KLA and only unconfirmed reports of skirmishes between the ethnic Albanian Kosovar troops and Serb forces.
But the KLA, which Belgrade claims to have forced out of Kosovo at gunpoint, intends to return to what its members say is their rightful home.
Most of its fighters don't know if their families are dead, alive or eking out an existence in a refugee camp. Others have left families behind in countries such as England and Germany to take up arms.
It is also believed male Kosovars who have taken their families to refugee camps in neighboring Macedonia and Albania are now leaving the camps to join the KLA.
When CNN traveled with the KLA over a series of days this week, the guerrilla army showed signs of a gathering momentum aimed at striking back into the heart of Kosovo.
The KLA claims to have altered a significant infiltration route along the Kosovo-Albanian border and to control significant territory in southwest Yugoslavia. A steady stream of KLA soldiers moving into Kosovo gave weight to their claims.
Boettcher reported that stockpiles of weapons and ammunition stored along their infiltration routes also bolstered their claims.
Against the odds
The 100 men of the KLA's fourth brigade were born in Jakova, Kosovo, but most of them left the Yugoslav province years ago to study or work abroad, or, to escape arrest for being KLA sympathizers.
One man, a civil engineer, who was working in London until war broke out, was positive his fight was for the right reasons and that one day he would return home to Kosovo.
"Yeah, I think so and I hope so, we must go back to fight for my country until my country can be free," he told Boettcher.
As CNN followed the brigade along a key infiltration route, the unit evaded sporadic artillery fire from nearby Yugoslav forces. A shattered farmhouse sometimes used by the KLA is evidence of the shelling, which the KLA claims has become less effective due to NATO airstrikes.
The KLA soldiers are also under constant harassment by Serb snipers.
But the KLA uses the unpredictable weather conditions in the mountainous region to advantage. Cold rain and fog reduces the effectiveness of the Yugoslav military but it also makes life difficult for a foot army forced to carry its weapons over rough terrain for many days at a time.
But all were united in their mindset. The trip back into Kosovo is a one-way journey which they say involves only two choices: win back Kosovo, or die trying.
Albanian-Americans hoping to join the fight
On Tuesday, a group of Albanian-Americans, who had hoped to join KLA told CNN they were denied permission to fly to Albania.
A spokeswoman for the Albanian-American Civil League said NATO officials had twice denied the group's request to fly to Tirana, Albania. She would not give any further details.
NATO officials told CNN they had no knowledge of the group's request, and said NATO had no jurisdiction over flights out of the U.S.
The U.S. State Department said "it is not encouraging" Albanian-Americans to join the KLA and fight the Serbs.
"We would urge Kosovar Albanians (in the U.S.), and indeed all Americans, to direct their efforts towards humanitarian relief," said spokesman James Foley.
Week 4 begins; NATO warns attacks could continue for months
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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