Kosovo Liberation Army

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Kosovo Liberation Army
Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës
Participant in Kosovo War
Active 1996[1] – 1999[2] (est. 1992–93[3] but relatively passive until 1996)
Leaders Hashim Thaçi
Bilall Syla
Zahir Pajaziti
Adem Jashari
Agim Çeku
Fatmir Limaj
Ramush Haradinaj
Bekim Berisha
Agim Ramadani  
Area of operations Kosovo, FR Yugoslavia
Strength 6,000–20,000[5] or 25,000–30,000[6]
Became Kosovo Protection Corps
Allies Albania, NATO
Opponents Yugoslavia
Battles and wars

Kosovo War:

The Kosovo Liberation Army (abbreviated KLA; Albanian: Ushtria Çlirimtare e KosovësUÇK) was an ethnic-Albanian paramilitary organisation which sought the separation of Kosovo from Yugoslavia during the 1990s and the eventual creation of a Greater Albania.[a] Its campaign against Yugoslav security forces, police, government officers and ethnic Serb villages precipitated a major Yugoslav military crackdown which led to the Kosovo War of 1998–1999. Military intervention by Yugoslav security forces led by Slobodan Milošević and Serb paramilitaries within Kosovo prompted an exodus of Kosovar Albanians and a refugee crisis that eventually caused NATO to intervene militarily in order to stop what was widely identified as an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing.[12][13] Later the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) legally found that Serbia "use[d] violence and terror to force a significant number of Kosovo Albanians from their homes and across the borders, in order for the state authorities to maintain control over Kosovo... This campaign was conducted by army and Interior Ministry police forces (MUP) under the control of FRY and Serbian authorities, who were responsible for mass expulsions of Kosovo Albanian civilians from their homes, as well as incidents of killings, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques."[14]

The conflict was ended by an "almost-imposed" negotiated agreement that requested the UN to take over the administration and political process, including local institutional building and determine the final status of the region.

In 1999 the KLA was officially disbanded and their members entered Kosovo Protection Corps, a civilian emergency protection body to replace the former KLA (foreseen by UNSC Resolution 1244) and Kosovo Police Force.[15] Some of the Kosovo Liberation Army leadership opted to enter politics leading key government positions at times.

Early history[edit]

In February 1996 the KLA undertook a series of attacks against police stations and Yugoslav government officers, saying that they had killed Albanian civilians as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign.[16] Serbian authorities denounced the KLA as a terrorist organisation and increased the number of security forces in the region. This had the counter-productive effect of boosting the credibility of the embryonic KLA among the Kosovo Albanian population.

In 1996 the British weekly The European carried an article by a French expert stating that "German civil and military intelligence services have been involved in training and equipping the rebels with the aim of cementing German influence in the Balkan area. (...) The birth of the KLA in 1996 coincided with the appointment of Hansjoerg Geiger as the new head of the BND (German secret Service). (...) The BND men were in charge of selecting recruits for the KLA command structure from the 500,000 Kosovars in Albania."[17] Former senior adviser to the German parliament Matthias Küntzel tried to prove later on that German secret diplomacy had been instrumental in helping the KLA since its creation.[18]

According to the report of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, the "Kosovo Liberation Army ... attacks aimed at trying to 'cleanse' Kosovo of its ethnic Serb population."[19]

The Yugoslav Red Cross had estimated a total of 30,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo, most of whom were Serb. The UNHCR estimated the figure at 55,000 refugees who had fled to Montenegro and Central Serbia, most of whom were Kosovo Serbs: "Over 90 mixed villages in Kosovo have now been emptied of Serb inhabitants and other Serbs continue leaving, either to be displaced in other parts of Kosovo or fleeing into central Serbia."

The NATO North Atlantic Council had stressed that KLA was "the main initiator of the violence" and that it had "launched what appears to be a deliberate campaign of provocation".[19][unreliable source?]

Kosovo War[edit]

Main article: Kosovo War


Between 5 and 7 March 1998, the Yugoslav Army launched an operation on Prekaz. The operation followed an earlier firefight (28 February) in which four policemen were killed and several more were wounded; Adem Jashari, a KLA leader, escaped. In Prekaz, 28 militans were killed, along with 30 civilians, most belonging to Jashari's family. Amnesty International claimed that it was an extermination operation.

On 23 April 1998, the Yugoslav Army (VJ) ambushed the KLA near the Albanian-Yugoslav border. The KLA had tried to smuggle arms and supplies into Kosovo. The Yugoslav Army, although greatly outnumbered, had no casualties, while 19 militants were killed.


According to Roland Keith, a field office director of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission:[20]

Upon my arrival the war increasingly evolved into a mid intensity conflict as ambushes, the encroachment of critical lines of communication and the [KLA] kidnapping of security forces resulted in a significant increase in government casualties which in turn led to major Yugoslavian reprisal security operations... By the beginning of March these terror and counter-terror operations led to the inhabitants of numerous villages fleeing, or being dispersed to either other villages, cities or the hills to seek refuge... The situation was clearly that KLA provocations, as personally witnessed in ambushes of security patrols which inflicted fatal and other casualties, were clear violations of the previous October's agreement [and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199].


Foreign volunteers[edit]

Former KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said that volunteers came from "Sweden, Belgium, the UK, Germany and the US."[21] Islamist volunteers from Western Europe of ethnic Albanian, Turkish, and North African origin, were organized by Islamist leaders in Western Europe allied to Bin Laden and Zawahiri.[6] Some 175 Yemeni mujahideen arrived in early May 1998.[6] The KLA included many foreign volunteers from West Europe, mostly from Germany and Switzerland, and also ethnic Albanians from the US.[22][unreliable source?] According to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by September 1998, there was 1,000 foreign mercenaries from Albania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Muslims) and Croatia.[23]

Aftermath (post-1999)[edit]

UÇK monument in Deçan

After the war, the KLA was transformed into the Kosovo Protection Corps, which worked alongside NATO forces patrolling the province.[24] The KLA legacy remains powerful within Kosovo. Its former members still play a major role in Kosovar politics.

Ali Ahmeti organised the NLA that fought in the Insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia, of former KLA fighters from Kosovo and Macedonia, Albanian insurgents from Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac in Serbia, young Albanian radicals and nationalists from Macedonia, and foreign mercenaries.[25] The acronym was the same as KLA's in Albanian.[25]

Its former political head Hashim Thaçi is now the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Prime Minister of Kosovo since January 2008.

The KLA's former military head, Agim Çeku, after the war became Prime Minister of Kosovo. The move caused some controversy in Serbia, as Belgrade regarded him as a war criminal, though he was never indicted by the Hague tribunal.[26]

Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, served briefly as Prime Minister of Kosovo before he turned himself into the ICTY at The Hague to stand trial on war crimes charges,[27] and was later acquitted.

Fatmir Limaj, one of the senior commanders of the KLA, was also tried at The Hague, and was acquitted of all charges in November 2005.[28] Hajredin Bala, an ex-KLA prison guard, was sentenced on 30 November 2005 to 13 years’ imprisonment for the mistreatment of three prisoners at the Llapushnik prison camp, his personal role in the "maintenance and enforcement of the inhumane conditions" of the camp, aiding the torture of one prisoner, and of participating in the murder of nine prisoners from the camp who were marched to the Berisha Mountains on 25 or 26 July 1998 and killed. Bala appealed the sentence and the appeal is still pending.[29][needs update]

Foreign support[edit]

Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army turn over their weapons to U.S. Marines

James Bissett, Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, wrote in 2001 that media reports indicate that "as early as 1998, the Central Intelligence Agency assisted by the British Special Air Service were arming and training Kosovo Liberation Army members in Albania to foment armed rebellion in Kosovo. (...) The hope was that with Kosovo in flames NATO could intervene ..."[30][clarification needed] According to Tim Judah, KLA representatives had already met with American, British, and Swiss intelligence agencies in 1996, and possibly "several years earlier"[31] and according to The Sunday Times, "American intelligence agents have admitted they helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia".[32] Intelligence agents denied, however, that they were involved in arming the KLA.

American Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, while opposed to American ground troops in Kosovo, advocated for America providing support to the Kosovo Liberation to help them gain their freedom.[33] He was honored by the Albanian American Civic League at a New Jersey located fundraising event on 23 July 2001. President of the League, Joseph J. DioGuardi, praised Rohrabacher for his support to the Kosovo Liberation Army, saying "He was the first member of Congress to insist that the United States arm the Kosovo Liberation Army, and one of the few members who to this day publicly supports the independence of Kosovo."[34] Rohrabacher gave a speech in support of American equipping the KLA with weaponry, comparing it to French support of America in the Revolutionary War, saying "Based on our own experience, the Kosovo Liberation Army should have been armed." "If the U.S. had armed the KLA in 1998, we would not be where we are today. The 'freedom fighters' would have secured their freedom and Kosovo would be independent."[35][36]

Reported abuses[edit]

There have been reports of war crimes committed by the KLA both during and after the conflict. These have been directed against Serbs, other ethnic minorities (primarily the Roma) and against ethnic Albanians accused of collaborating with Serb authorities.[37] According to a 2001 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW):

The KLA was responsible for serious abuses… including abductions and murders of Serbs and ethnic Albanians considered collaborators with the state. Elements of the KLA are also responsible for post-conflict attacks on Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanians, as well as ethnic Albanian political rivals... widespread and systematic burning and looting of homes belonging to Serbs, Roma, and other minorities and the destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries... combined with harassment and intimidation designed to force people from their homes and communities... elements of the KLA are clearly responsible for many of these crimes.[38]

The KLA engaged in tit-for-tat attacks against Serbian nationalists in Kosovo, reprisals against ethnic Albanians who "collaborated" with the Serbian government, and bombed police stations and cafes known to be frequented by Serb officials, killing innocent civilians in the process. Most of its activities were funded by drug running, though its ties to community groups and Albanian exiles gave it local popularity.[24]

Weapons confiscated from the KLA, July 1999

The infamous Panda Bar incident, however, which was an attack on Serb teenagers at a cafe, that led to an immediate crackdown on the Albanian-populated southern quarters of Pejë (Kapeshnicë and Zatra), during which Serbian police killed two Kosovo Albanians[39] has been alleged to have been organized by the Serbian government. On 17 January 2014, the Serbian newspaper Kurir reported that a source close to the Serbian government stated that there exists concrete evidence that the crime was ordered by Radomir Markovic (head of State Security Service) and executed by the infamous Milorad Ulemek (Legija), so as to make Kosovo Liberation Army appear as a terrorist organisation.[40] Similar claims, although not accusing the government, were made by Aleksandar Vucic, who stated that there is no evidence that the murder was committed by Albanians, as previously believed.[41]

The exact number of victims of the KLA is not known. According to a Serbian government report, the KLA had killed and kidnapped 3,276 people of various ethnic descriptions including some Albanians. From 1 January 1998 to 10 June 1999 the KLA killed 988 people and kidnapped 287; in the period from 10 June 1999 to 11 November 2001, when NATO took control in Kosovo, 847 were reported to have been killed and 1,154 kidnapped. This comprised both civilians and security force personnel: of those killed in the first period, 335 were civilians, 351 soldiers, 230 police and 72 were unidentified; by nationality, 87 of the killed civilians were Serbs, 230 Albanians, and 18 of other nationalities. Following the withdrawal of Serbian and Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo in June 1999, all casualties were civilians, the vast majority being Serbs.[42] According to Human Rights Watch, as “many as one thousand Serbs and Roma have been murdered or have gone missing since June 12, 1999.”[38]

Kosovo Liberation Army members were sentenced for murdering 32 non-Albanian civilians.[43] In the same case, another 35 civilians are missing while 153 were tortured and released.

Allegation of usage of child soldiers[edit]

Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989, entered into force on 2 September 1990 and valid throughout the conflict, article 38 uses the age of 15 as the minimum for recruitment or participation in armed conflict. Article 38 requires state parties to prevent anyone under the age of 15 from taking direct part in hostilities and to refrain from recruiting anyone under the age of 15 years.[44]

The participation of persons under age of 18 in the KLA was confirmed in October 2000 when details of the registration of 16,024 KLA soldiers by the International Organisation for Migration in Kosovo became known. Ten per cent of this number were under age of 18. The majority of them were 16 and 17 years old. Around 2% were below the age of 16. These were mainly girls recruited to cook for the soldiers rather than to actually fight.[45]

Allegations of organ theft[edit]

Main article: Organ theft in Kosovo

Carla Del Ponte, a long-time ICTY chief prosecutor, claimed in her book The Hunt: Me and the War Criminals that there were instances of organ trafficking in 1999 after the end of the Kosovo War. These allegations were dismissed by Kosovar and Albanian authorities.[46] The allegations have been rejected by Kosovar authorities as fabrications while the ICTY has said "no reliable evidence had been obtained to substantiate the allegations".[47]

In early 2011 the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs viewed a report by Dick Marty on the alleged criminal activities and alleged organ harvesting controversy; however, the Members of Parliament criticised the report, citing lack of evidence, and Marty responded that a witness protection program was needed in Kosovo before he could provide more details on witnesses because their lives were in danger.[48] Investigations are still being done.


  • Klečka killings (26–27 August 1998) – 22 burnt bodies were found in a makeshift crematorium.[49]
  • Lake Radonjić massacre (9 September 1998) – 34 individuals of Serb, Roma and Albanian ethnicity were discovered by a Serbian forensic team near the lake.[50][51][52][53]
  • Gnjilane killings – The remains of 80 Serbs were discovered after they were killed by Albanian militants.[54] A mass grave was found in Čena(r) Česma near Gnjilane.[55][56]
  • Orahovac massacre – More than 100 Serbian and Roma civilians were kidnapped and placed in prison camps, 47 were killed.[57][58]
  • Staro Gracko massacre – 14 Serbian farmers were murdered by Albanian militants.[59]
  • Ugljare mass grave – 15 bodies of Serbs found in a mass grave, reported on 25 August 1999 by KFOR.[59][60] The KFOR exhumed the mass grave on 27 July.[61] 14 Serbs had been shot, stabbed or clubbed.[62] Ugljare was a KLA stronghold.[63]
  • Volujak massacre – 25 male Kosovo Serb civilians were murdered by members of the KLA in July 1998.[64][better source needed]

Prison camps[edit]

  • Lapušnik prison camp – Hajredin Bala; An KLA prison guard was found guilty of torture and mistreatment of prisoners crimes committed at the camp.[65][66]
  • Jablanica prison camp – 10 individuals were detained and tortured by KLA forces including: one Serb, three Montenegrins, one Bosnian, three Albanians, and two victims of unknown ethnicity.[67][68]
  • Other prison camps in Albania – Several individuals claimed that they were kidnapped and transported to these camps where they witnessed torture of others prisoners, but these individuals fail to explain why they them self were let free to tell the world.[69]

Status as a terrorist group[edit]

The Yugoslav authorities, under Slobodan Milošević, regarded the KLA as terrorist group,[70] though many European governments did not. In February 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, condemned both the actions of the Serb government and of the KLA, and described the KLA as "without any questions, a terrorist group".[71][72][73] UN resolution 1160 took a similar stance.[74][75]

But the 1997 US State Department's terrorist list hadn't included the KLA.[76] In March 1998, just one month later Gerbald had to modify his statements to say that KLA had not been classified legally by the U.S. government as a terrorist group,[75] and the US government approached the KLA leaders to make them interlocutors with the Serbs.[77][78][unreliable source?] A Wall Street Journal article claimed later that the US government had in February 1998 removed the KLA from the list of terrorist organisations,[77][79][80] a removal that has never been confirmed.[75] France didn't delist the KLA until late 1998, after strong US and UK lobbying.[81] KLA is still present in the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base list of terrorist groups,[70] and is listed as an inactive terrorist organisation by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.[82]

During the war, the KLA troops collaborated with the NATO troops, and they were qualified by NATO as "freedom fighters". In late 1999 the KLA was disbanded and its members entered the Kosovo Protection Corps.[77]

Special Court of Kosovo[edit]

On April 14, 2014, the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo decided if the Kosovan parliament will vote on the establishment of a special court of Kosovo to try alleged war crimes and other serious crimes committed during and after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.[83] On April 23, 2014, the parliament of Kosovo approved of a special court for serious abuses during and after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The special court will adjudicate cases against individuals based on a 2010 Council of Europe report by the Swiss senator Dick Marty. The report also accused members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) on various alleged crimes.[84] It could be established by 2016 and will be based in The Hague.[85][86]

See also[edit]


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  85. ^ "EU to set up international tribunal for Kosovo crimes in 2016". RAPSI. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  86. ^ "Special Kosovo war crimes court to be set up in The Hague". Reuters. 15 January 2016. 


General references[edit]

  • "KLA Action Fuelled NATO Victory", Jane's Defence Weekly, 16 June 1999
  • "The KLA: Braced to Defend and Control", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 April 1999
  • "Kosovo's Ceasefire Crumbles As Serb Military Retaliates", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 February 1999
  • "Another Balkan Bloodbath? Part Two", Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 March 1998
  • "Albanians Attack Serb Targets", Jane's Defence Weekly, 4 September 1996
  • "The Kosovo Liberation Army and the Future of Kosovo", James H. Anderson and James Phillips, 13 May 1999, Heritage Foundation, Heritage Foundation (Washington, USA)
  • "Kosovo 'freedom fighters' financed by organized crime", Michel Chossudovsky, 19 April 1999, wsws.org

External links[edit]