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Kosovo Rebels Urge Males To Return

April 1, 1999

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Kosovo rebels are urging ethnic Albanian males who fled the Yugoslav province to return and join the guerrilla army and fight the Serbs.

Those who refuse, the Kosovo Liberation Army said in a statement, face reprisals _ even in Albania.

``If men will refuse to join the KLA, the (rebel) general staff warns that the (KLA) military police will act, even outside Kosovo,″ said the statement broadcast on Albanian state television, indicating the rebel leadership is concerned that the exodus of ethnic Albanian refugees will deprive the movement of its base of recruits.

NATO said Wednesday that a ``large number″ of ethnic Albanian civilians and rebels were trapped by three Yugoslav brigades in a valley 30 miles southwest of the provincial capital, Pristina.

A regional KLA commander, Ramush Hajredinaj, told The Associated Press by satellite phone Tuesday that the rebels were barely hanging on against the government onslaught and are concentrating on protecting what’s left of the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic.

Albanian authorities are dispersing Kosovo Albanian refugees throughout the country, transporting them to cities such as Shkodra, Vlora and Tirana, far from camps the KLA operates along the border in northern Albania.

Mindful that many Kosovo Albanian males are worried about their families, the rebels gave all men between the ages of 18 and 50 one month to report to rebel recruiters or ``they will be taken by force.″

In the hills near the Albanian border, reporters Wednesday saw Kosovo rebels stopping some cars driven by refugees crossing the border from Kosovo. Some men got out of their cars and appeared to be leaving with rebels.

It 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 west of the border.

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

``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.″

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 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?″

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.

``It’s not suicide to go and fight for Kosovo’s independence,″ he said. ``We’ve left behind a lot of property. ... That’s where we belong. And we’re not giving it up that easily.″

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