TIRANA, Albania, Aug. 23 -- Senior Kosovo Liberation Army commanders trained in Albania starting in 1991, KLA deputy chief of staff Colonel Dilaver Goxhaj, said in interview published here on Wednesday "The organized military training of Kosovo men continued until 1993 when Albania's police arrested Adem Jashari for illegal possession of weapons," Goxhaj said in the interview with the daily Shekulli.
Jashari, the first KLA commander, was killed together with 56 relatives, including children, when the Yugoslav army shelled his home in Prekaz, in March 1998. The incident inspired a rapid rise in the size of the KLA which, according to Goxhaj, numbered 19,800 fighters before NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia began on March 24, 1999.
Goxhaj was born in Gjirokastra, south Albania, close to Greek border and educated at a military school. Until 1993 Goxhaj was an instructor in the use of anti aircraft guns at the Albanian Military Academy. He joined the KLA in September 1998 and became deputy chief of staff. In Kosovo he was known as Commander Shpetim Golemi. Now back in Albania, he did not say whether he will return to Kosovo.
The KLA set up a staff in December 1993, Goxhaj said, after "intensive preparation in Albania and a propaganda campaign in Kosovo and abroad." Another Albanian military expert, who had taught Jashari the use of infantry weapons, confirmed Goxhaj story.
According to Goxhaj's interview, there was close cooperation between the KLA, NATO and Albania's army in exchanging information about Yugoslav army movements, techniques and coordinates. Goxhaj confirms NATO had informed them when the air strikes were to begin. "We were in the KLA headquarters in Kostrec village when Hashim Thaci, our chief commander, phoned from Brussels and said 'today at 20 hours NATO will start air strikes."
"NATO asked us to mark Serb army targets, their position, number, ammunition, the presence of anti-aircraft guns and their distance from civilians." NATO agreed to bomb only when civilian populations or KLA forces were at least a kilometer from the Serb positions, Goxhaj said. All cases of NATO hitting civilians or KLA forces, he said, followed from its aircraft finding targets for themselves and not as a result of information provided by the KLA.
KLA forces doubled in size during the Kosovo fighting, Goxhai said. Some 10,000 Kosovo men and women joined after the Serbs began ethnic cleansing operations and another 11,000 volunteers came from the United States and Europe.
Between November 28, 1997, when the KLA publicly announced its existence, and June 20, 1999, when fighting ended, 2,000 members were killed and 4,800 injured, he said. There were 12,000 civilian victims and 10,000 injured during the same period. Goxhaj's figures are lower than NATO reports on the Kosovo conflict.
Goxhaj thanked the military hospital in Tirana for saving many KLA lives and an Albanian helicopter brigade for transporting the injured to the hospital. Before and during the conflict, Albania denied Belgrade accusations that it allowed the KLA training camps on its territory. After the conflict, Fatos Nano, Albanian premier during the conflict, admitted Albania's help to the KLA and said there had been contacts between KLA leaders and American officials including Richard Holbrook, currently U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.