» Ethnic Albanian paramilitary group claims to have support

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» Ethnic Albanian paramilitary group claims to have support

Mesazh  Nimfa prej Tue Jul 15, 2008 5:19 pm

TIRANA, Albania: An outlawed ethnic Albanian paramilitary group claims it has support throughout the province, including from politicians, and is prepared to fight off any threats from armed Serb groups.

The Albanian National Army, known as AKSH and branded a terrorist organization by the U.N. mission in Kosovo, says it has been patrolling towns along the Serb border in northern Kosovo to prevent any Serb incursion into the area. It is unclear how large the group is.

Gafur Adili, who heads what he said was the AKSH's political wing, the Front for Albanian National Union, said the AKSH had fighters and supporters "in every corner of Kosovo, in every community, village, town, even in parliament, the old or the new one."

Last month, the Serbian Guard of Czar Lazar paramilitary group, also outlawed by the U.N. mission, threatened to target U.N. and NATO peacekeepers and Albanian-run institutions if the province declared independence from Serbia.

In response, about two weeks ago an AKSH paramilitary commander in Kosovo, who identified himself as Preka, said the AKSH could immediately conscript 12,000 people to "defend this land to the last soldier," adding they were patrolling all northern Kosovo towns bordering Serbia.

"If they enter Kosovo we are ready to confront with them militarily," Adili, 48, told The Associated Press. "It would not be easy for us if Serbia, the government, would attack Kosovo, but these paramilitaries are no problem for us."

NATO officials in Kosovo have dismissed the Serb threat, saying the NATO peacekeeping force — known as KFOR — would fight any group that threatened stability.

The AKSH, which aims to unify all Balkan territories inhabited by ethnic Albanians, has claimed responsibility for various attacks in Macedonia, southern Serbia and Kosovo over several years.

"At this moment we are focused on Kosovo, and (ethnic) Albanians from wherever they live, including the Diaspora, would respond to our call," Adili claimed.

Internationally brokered talks are under way between ethnic Albanians and Serbia on settling the long-standing dispute over whether the province will become independent or remain part of Serbia. Kosovo has been under U.N. control since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop a Serb crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

The AKSH's brash statements have stoked tension in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanian leaders have said the paramilitary group's activities work against the province's U.N.-supervised institutions. They say the group is damaging efforts to resolve Kosovo's status through internationally mediated negotiations.

Envoys from the United States, European Union and Russia are in charge of talks and are to report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Dec. 10. Kosovo's Albanian leaders have threatened to declare independence unilaterally if negotiations fail. Serbia says it is willing to grant the province autonomy but not independence.

Adili has been living in Albania since 2003, when he was arrested there on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to seven months in prison. He has been stripped of his citizenship by Switzerland, where his family still lives. Albanian authorities have not given him a passport, and he has been banned from leaving the country.

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