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Kosovo Rebels Seek Refugee Recruits

March 31, 1999

GJEGJAN, Albania (AP) _ Kosovo rebels are stopping ethnic Albanians as they flee the province and sending the men back to fight the Serbs.

The Kosovo Liberation Army has set up several checkpoints along the main road near the Kosovo-Albanian border, looking for male refugees of fighting age.

``The KLA is recruiting soldiers for the army to go back and fight,″ said Binak Likaj, 23. ``I’d like to go if my family will let me.″

Late Wednesday, Albanian television carried a KLA statement ordering all Kosovo Albanian men between the ages of 18 and 50 to join its ranks within one month. The statement said the KLA is setting up training camps in Kosovo for new recruits.

``If the men refuse to join the KLA, the general staff warned that the military police will act even outside Kosovo,″ the statement said.

It was not known how many men have joined the KLA since tens of thousands of terrified Kosovo Albanians began streaming over the border last weekend, when Serb police and soldiers began systematically expelling ethnic Albanians.

It also was unclear how much coercion had been used to persuade men and boys to leave their families and report to makeshift camps, which the rebels maintain in the hills a few miles west of the border.

Some travelers said they have seen KLA fighters taking men off buses that have been ferrying refugees from nearby Kukes to other towns and cities in Albania for resettlement.

Many ethnic Albanian men fleeing Kosovo are torn between fear, loyalty to their homeland, and their responsibilities to care for mothers, wives and children who face an uncertain future as refugees.

``They are stopping young guys,″ said Tefik Kryeziu, 21, who fled the village of southwestern village of Rogova. ``What can I do? If I’m asked to go and fight, I will. But it’s all on fire there, and we’ll get killed.″

His mother, who refused to give her name, had other ideas.

``We want him to come with us,″ she said, tugging at her son’s arm. ``He has to look after us. If he doesn’t, who will?″

Seven miles southwest of the border, about 10 KLA fighters, wearing fatigues with the red and black KLA patch, milled around refugees parked at a power substation.

The fighters were standing about every 200 yards and appeared to be keeping watch over the refugees, who were traveling in several tractors, cars and trucks.

When other reporters and photographers showed up, the rebels drifted away. After the journalists left, the guerrillas returned.

A 30-year-old male refugee, Asllan Kryeziu, said he was willing to return and fight but only after he knew his wife and three children would have a safe place to stay.

``We’ve left behind a lot of property,″ he said. ``We are not immigrants. That’s where we belong. And we’re not giving it up that easily.″

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