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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

KLA Presses Refugees to Join Revolt

KUKES, Albania -- The Kosovo Liberation Army says it is attracting 1,000 recruits a day, including girls as young as 16, but admits volunteers alone cannot fill its ranks and also uses coercive gangs.

A KLA officer, who appeared to be in charge of 150 troops on the Kosovo-Albania border, said young ethnic Albanians expelled at gunpoint from their homes in Kosovo wait in line to join, eager "to liberate Kosovo from the Serbs."

But another KLA officer questioned during a two-day trip through the mountainous border area confirmed earlier reports that it was also using force to press ethnic Albanians of fighting age into the lightly armed separatist militia.

Refugees said the KLA's military police had set up roadblocks outside the northern town of Kukes, the main collecting and transit point for refugees, ordering men between ages 18 and 50 down from the trucks or tractor-drawn carts bringing them from Kosovo.

"Now that the general mobilization has been called, we are having a good response from the Kosovars but we will also use force to recruit them," the KLA officer said.

Some refugees reaching the relative sanctuary of Albania said they were willing to pay taxi drivers hefty sums to help them escape KLA recruitment gangs.

The other KLA officer said its outnumbered and lightly armed forces in Kosovo were resisting attacks by Serbian armored and artillery forces, but conceded they had lost some positions.

"In spite of this our morale is high," he said. "The Serbs thought that by shelling they would destroy the KLA but the opposite is true. People are joining the KLA at the rate of 1,000 a day and KLA soldiers are more determined than ever."

Earlier this week, some 50 young men were lining up outside a KLA recruiting office to offer their services. However, the line was dwarfed by those of people waiting to call relatives abroad.

Admitting that the KLA was heavily outgunned by Yugoslav security forces, the officer said the Serbs had used surface-to-surface missiles in attacks on villages in the Podujevo area, forcing civilians to flee and thus depriving the KLA of support bases.

"NATO should make up its mind whether to get into Kosovo itself or allow us to have weapons," he said. "This is not a war with army fighting army. This is a war of the Serbian war machine against civilians."

Yugoslav troops fought a seven-hour battle Friday with KLA rebels along Albania's tense border, according to monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

Andrea Angeli, a spokesman for the 54-nation OSCE, said the shoot-out began about 6 a.m. (8 a.m. in Moscow) near Tropoja, a former KLA stronghold about 130 kilometers northeast of the Albanian capital Tirana. Heavy machine-gun fire and sniper weapons were used, he said. It was unclear, Angeli added, whether either group of combatants crossed the border during the clash.

In Belgrade, however, the Yugoslav army accused Albania of "attempting an aggression'' against Yugoslavia. An army statement said Yugoslav troops came under mortar fire from Albanian territory while a large group of armed "terrorists'' tried to cross the border illegally.

This "aggressive act'' was "swiftly repelled,'' and the "terrorist group destroyed'' by the Yugoslav border units, the statement said.

"Albania, the terrorist groups and those who support them will have to bear the consequences for the eventual flare-up of the war in the Balkans and the responsibility for the bloodshed,'' the statement said.