Albania Small Help to Kosovo Exiles
Apr. 28, 1998
KUKES, Albania (AP) _ Ethnic Albanians living in western Europe have been coming to Albania in search of guns and other support for their struggle to win control of Kosovo.
But instead of help, they have been confronted with poverty and confusion _ and the realization that Albanians are focused on their own problems, rather than the conflict in the neighboring Yugoslav province.
Naim Ibrahimi, a Kosovo Albanian, left Zurich, Switzerland, where he had sought political asylum, in February. He arrived in Kukes, on the Yugoslav border 60 miles north of Tirana, the capital, with about $3,300.
Ibrahimi, 25, and two other Kosovo Albanians came with high hopes of finding what militants in Zurich had promised them: two hotels to accommodate volunteer fighters, guns for military training, and money and provisions from the people of Kukes.
But they found little of that.
``The situation is not even close to what I expected,'' a disappointed Ibrahimi said. ``The people are very nice, but they can hardly provide for themselves, let alone for us.''
In the six weeks since he arrived, Ibrahimi has done little more than hang out with other Kosovo Albanians in a dingy coffee shop. They smoke cigarettes, shoot pool and drink imported Yugoslav beer all day.
He said about 50 young ethnic Albanians just like him in Zurich were preparing to come to Kukes. ``I called them and told them what it's like here,'' he said. ``I warned them not to come.''
Ibrahimi is now waiting for his friends to send him enough money to buy a plane ticket back to Switzerland.
Albania's official position is against the use of its territory by Kosovo Albanians to train to fight against the Serbs in Kosovo. The government has denied several times that such militants exist in its territory, including an Italian report two months ago that Kosovo Albanians were training at a base in northern Albania.
Tirana is trying to prevent ethnic Albanians from crossing the border. The chief of the National Intelligence Service reportedly visited border towns and ordered all ethnic Albanians to go back unarmed or register as refugees.
Some Kosovo Albanians have been in Kukes for most of the decade, waiting to gain Albanian passports. Ethnic Albanians who come legally can apply for an Albanian passport and normally get it, but those who have crossed the border illegally cannot.
Sefer Sadiku, 32, who also frequents the coffee shop, arrived in 1991 with a wife and two children. Unable to work and desperate for an income, he started smuggling arms in 1992.
He bought automatic rifles for $100 each from Albanians in Montenegro, part of Yugoslavia, and smuggled them into Kosovo where he sold them for up to five times that amount.
``I made a lot of money,'' Sadiku said.
When financial pyramid schemes collapsed and Albania exploded in chaos last year, nearly all the state armories were looted and civilians seized about a million guns. Sadiku, like hundreds of others, started gathering guns in his apartment.
``I collected about 150 Kalashnikovs ... hired three horses from a villager, loaded them and took the guns to my village, near Djakovica (in Yugoslavia), a few kilometers (miles) from the border, and hid them in the mountain,'' Sadiku said.
He didn't sell the guns, but hoarded them for his family. Only his father knows where they are stashed.
``I told him to keep them,'' said Sadiku. ``As it turned out, now they will need them for themselves'' when Serbs attack their village.
Sadiku said he stopped smuggling weapons three months ago when more Yugoslav army troops were deployed at the border to discourage ethnic Albanian forays.
Fighting on Monday underlined the hazards. The Yugoslav army said it killed three Albanians and wounded seven in a group of militants trying to smuggle weapons into Kosovo. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition were confiscated after the troops were attacked, the army said.
Disputing this account, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders said up to 12 people were killed and none were militant separatists. In a statement, they said the army attacked the Albanians about 6 miles from the border.
Sadiku said guns alone won't defeat the Serbs.
``We're ready to go to Kosovo and fight, but fighting against the Serbian (Yugoslav) army in small groups of three and four is committing suicide,'' said Sadiku.