The Albanian National Liberation Army is a terrorist/revolutionary organisation whose stated aim is parity of esteem and treatment for the Albanians in Macedonia. However, many analysts believe that the creation of a "Greater Albania" (which also includes bits of Montenegro,Greece and Serbia) is the ultimate goal of these rebels. The Albanian name for the rebels is the Ushtria Clirimitore Kombetare (UCK).
The NLA has grown from a tiny force in January 2001 to a significant threat to the Macedonian Government by August of the same year. The origins of the NLA lie in the bordering province of Kosovo. There the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) succeeded, with the help of NATO, in achieving autonomy within Serbia. It is believed that a number of leading figures within the KLA of Macedonian origin founded the new group sometime in 2000.
The mountainous border between Kosovo and Macedonia, north of the city of Tetovo, is an ideal base for the NLA. The nerve center of their operations is believed to be in the village of Sipkovica. In January 2001 there were about 200 fighters engaging in hit and run attacks on Macedonian police bases. Their first victim was a Macedonian policeman during a mortar attack on the 22ndJanuary.
The group enjoyed the support of many Albanian villagers. In the following eight months they were able to recruit thousands more to reach an estimated strength of 3,000 by August 2001. As they grew in strength, the "liberated zone" which they secured grew from the mountains towards Tetovo and the capital Skopje.
Major successes have included the capture of the border town of Raduse and the isolation of the Government forces in Tetovo. The NLA threatened the main Skopje-Tetovo highway and have infiltrated the hills to the south of the capital.
According to intelligence sources, the NLA is grouped into six brigades. Three are located in the Black mountains. One is near Tetovo, one near Skopje and another in majority Albanian town of Gostivar. They have an unknown number of light arms (AK-47s etc), RPGs, mortars, anti-tank rockets, SAM missiles (SA-7B "Grail") and one captured T55 tank.
The leaders of the NLA often adopt a nom-de-guerre during negotiations and press releases. Ali Ahmati is the chief negotiater. The office cadre of the NLA are mostly KLA veterans. They are funded by Albanians in exile around the world and weapons are channeled through either Albania or Kosovo (though this latter route has been compromised by NATOs 'Operation Eagle').
In August the NLA and the Macedonian government signed a peace deal. This requires that the NLA hands in a significant number of their arsenal to a NATO force. Whether they abide by the agreement or return to conflict is difficult to ascertain at this juncture.