Paramilitary force that operated in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, in Serbia, and fought for the independence of Kosovo. The KLA emerged as an organized movement in 1996, and by 1998 found itself in command of an uprising, which quickly spread across parts of the province. Labelled a terrorist organization by the Serb authorities (and Russia), the KLA took large tracts of land 1997–98, but the Serbs began to fight back in the summer of 1998 and by April 1999 – a month into a NATO offensive against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – the organization had been decimated. Thousands of new Kosovar recruits from European countries began to arrive. The KLA participated in the February 1999 Rambouillet peace talks and signed the agreement. It cooperated and coordinated its operations with NATO's air forces in its bombing campaign against Yugoslav military targets. After the end of the war in 1999, NATO and Serbian leaders agreed to a peace settlement leaving Kosovo governed by the United Nations and for the KLA to be disarmed. Former members of the KLA went on to have prominent roles in Kosovar politics.
The KLA was reportedly founded at a secret meeting in Priština, Kosovo's capital, in 1993, and made its first significant appearance during the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s. Over 5,000 ethnic Albanians fought alongside Croat and Bosnian Muslim military forces. After the Dayton peace accords were signed in 1995, the question of autonomy for Kosovo was generally pushed aside by the international community. The KLA therefore began to carry out isolated attacks on Serbian police forces in Kosovo, appearing for the first time in public in June 1996 and assuming responsibility for these attacks. Rather than attacking military facilities, their emphasis was on ambushing police patrols and attacking Albanians who collaborated with Serbian authorities. A leading role in the creation of the KLA was taken by the Popular Movement for Kosovo (LPK), a small clandestine party founded in 1982. The LPK, which claimed to have contacts with, or to represent, the KLA, had consistently argued that the only way to achieve independence was through violence and an armed insurrection. Beginning as a small, badly organized guerrilla force, the KLA was by the end of 1998 a well-organized movement, with a military general staff and a civilian political directorate consisting of 12 people. The directorate was headed by Hashim Thaci, who attended the Rambouillet peace talks. Other members included the Swiss-based Bardhyl Mahmuti, Jashar Salihu, the chair of the Homeland Calling fund, and Pleurat Sejdiu, the London representative of the KLA. All of these men had spent time in Yugoslav jails for their beliefs.
Prior to mid-1998, the KLA operated through hit-and-run attacks on Serbian units with light weapons. From 1998 the KLA widened the scope of its attacks to large-scale actions designed to hold villages and to disrupt communications between local Serbian forces. It also armed itself more heavily, with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and anti-aircraft guns. The total strength of the KLA in 1998 was estimated at 12,000–20,000 soldiers, divided into small cells of a few hundred trained commandos, and smaller groups of as few as three to five soldiers. Most of the KLA's core members were professionally trained former Yugoslav army soldiers or former members of the Internal State Security Service. The rest were mainly Albanian nationals, including former members of the Albanian military, as well as about 1,000 foreign mercenaries.
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