Albanian woman volunteer details Kosovo guerrilla days
Ballkan - April 18, 2004 / BBC Monitoring - April 20, 2004

Excerpts from Riza Lahi interview with Rajmonda Malecka, "the only woman from Albania to have fought on the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army", entitled "How I cut my hair to present myself as boy in the UCK" published by the Albanian newspaper Ballkan on 18 April:

Rajmonda is the only woman from the Republic of Albania to have taken part in the war for the liberation of Kosova Kosovo . She is now 34 years old. At a time when girls in Albania competed for Miss Albania and displayed the latest fashion, she cut her hair completely and put on a military uniform. Monda hid her female identity and left Tirana. However, after a few months she noted that her identity had been uncovered. How did it occur to her to go to war? How did her mother react when she told her that she had decided to go to Kosova? When did she open fire for the first time and when did she find herself in her most difficult moment? How could she hide her female identity for six months? How did her comrades realize that she was a girl? Who were the war personalities in Kosova she met and under what circumstances? We will learn about all this in our interview with Rajmonda.

Lahi When and why did you decide to go to war?

Malecka We have been living in Tirana for many years, but my distant origin is from Diber northeastern Albania . I grew up with the stories told by my father, Bujar, about the crimes committed by the Serbs in the region of my origin. He also talked to me about the heroic resistance of the people in Diber. Besides, my father and my mother, Xhima, have long been extending hospitality to activists of the Kosovar cause. They did this continuously and from earlier times, before the war broke out. When I decided to go to war we had just started to receive in our home fighters injured in clashes with the Serbian occupation army and I was very sorry for them. This was in May 1998 and it was then that I decided to go to Kosova.

Lahi Did your parents know about your decision?

Malecka My father is my best friend and I have never hidden anything from him. The same happened this time too. My father wished me luck with the words, "Good luck, my girl, may God protect you!" When we said goodbye to each other, I saw his lips quivering and hands trembling and, at the moment of my departure, he looked at me with a look I will never forget.

Lahi What about your mother?

Malecka She was calmer. The reason was that she knew absolutely nothing. I told her that I was sent by my paper, Clirimi Liberation , on a business trip. In fact, I prepared most of the material for the paper.

Lahi Were you engaged in journalism?

Malecka Yes, I have been long involved in journalism. I have also written poetry. I began my publications when I was a student at Partizan High school in Tirana and I have continued to do this since then, without interruption.

Lahi Did you leave by yourself?

Malecka No, I left with some other Kosovar fighters, who were staying in our house. Of course, we were not wearing military uniform. The other people were Bekim Berisha and Bedri Shala, known by his nom de guerre Abe. We had a cup of coffee together before we left, and I remember Abe addressing my father jokingly with these words: "We will take your girl with us for some time." My father replied: "You are taking her safe and sound and you should bring her back safe and sound." We all tried to laugh.

Lahi I have heard something about a hero nicknamed Abe. Can you please tell us something about him briefly?

Malecka Abe was a brave fellow from Graboci near Peje Pec . He knew Albania very well and he had many friends here. He had very detailed knowledge of every trail leading to Kosova, every mountain, meadow and stream in the area. On our way I learned that he had also taken part in the war in Bosnia and that his name had struck terror into the hearts of the enemy. I heard that after Abe was killed, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said with tears in his eyes: "For me, Abe was equal to 500 soldiers."

Lahi Were you afraid when you set foot in Kosova?

Malecka I slept three nights in Tropoje northeastern Albania and then we entered Kosova. We were a group of 100 volunteers, all armed, mostly young people from Kosova. I thought I would be afraid, but I was immediately struck by the beauty of the countryside and had no feelings of fear.

Lahi When did you decide to feign you were a boy?

Malecka On my way to Tropoje. I was given this idea by Bekim Berisha and Bedri Shala, with whom, as I told you, I left my home. They wanted me to resemble Shota Kosovo Albanian woman fighting Serbs in early 20th century . They told me: "Do not introduce yourself as a woman, but as a man." I liked the idea. I had always liked a book written by an author from Diber. This was a book we were all crazy about when we were young. The book's title is, "If I were a boy" and its author is Haki Stermili. Passage omitted

Lahi You said that you went to Kosova with a large armed group. Who were they?

Malecka There were also four or five people from Tropoje. I remember Hysni Neziri, Zaje Cela, Avdyl Tershnjeva etc.

Lahi What was your nom de guerre?

Malecka My nom de guerre was Sherri Quarrel .

Lahi What itinerary did you follow to enter Kosova?

Malecka We left at night. We travelled for about three or four hours and arrived at Junik. Junik was a well-known UCK stronghold. Gani Shehu was the commander of the battalion commander and Nimon Tofaj was our deputy commander. Lum Haxhiu, the well-known poet, who met Ambassador Holbrook in Junik, was in charge of propaganda. Lum Haxhiu is the nickname of the poet Hajdin Abazi. Passage omitted

Lahi When did you have your baptism of fire?

Malecka We did not go into action immediately. We took part in organized training until early August. Before that we did not take part in any armed military action. I took part in fighting for the first time on 10 August.

Lahi Were you afraid when you opened fire? How many bullets did you fire that day?

Malecka I was a little agitated, but that was all. It was not that I was hearing shooting for the first time. I had already taken part in military training sessions organized by our school in Albania. They are no longer organized now. I had three rounds and I fired them all.

Lahi Was it a fierce battle?

Malecka Very much. It began very early, at dawn. The sun had not come out yet. The Serbs attacked us with tanks. There were about 80 tanks, which launched a ferocious attack on our positions. The Serbs also had Praga armoured vehicles and they finally seized Kalavaj District in Junik. There we lost four of our good friends. They were Bedri Shala, Bekim Berisha (Abe), Elton Zherke and Permet Vula. Many others, such as Qerim Gjocaj (son of a teacher from Tropoje), Sabri Halimi, etc., were injured. Passage omitted

Lahi Were other girls fighting in Junik? Were you the only one?

Malecka Yes, there were others too. They were all from Kosova and worked as nurses. They all carried weapons. Passage omitted

Lahi A somewhat confidential question now. While you were there, in Kosova, did you feel love for anyone?

Malecka I understand. Look, I remained very cold and far from these sentiments and temptations. As a matter of fact, that was not a time for love. At a time when people were being killed every day, love never struck my mind. My heart and soul were full of love for all those girls and boys who went to their death as if going to their wedding party, and they did this with the name of Kosova on their lips.

Lahi What was your most painful day?

Malecka The day the Jashars led by Adem fell after their epic resistance. I knew him personally. The day I saw their freshly-dug graves in Prekaz, that was my most painful day.

Lahi When was your saddest day?

Malecka That was 14 December 1998. Thirty-six Kosovar men were killed on Kosova's border with Albania on that day. Among them were Muje Krasniqi, Beqir Gashi, Afrim Nysliu, Luljeta Shala, Hysen Bujupi, Gani Elshani, Isa Holluri, Astrit Bytyci. Passage omitted

Lahi Your most joyful day?

Malecka That was 18 September 2000, when the UCK military units gathered at Pristina stadium. There were so many that the stadium could not hold them all. I met many friends whom I thought I had lost forever. That was a day of extraordinary and indescribable joy for me. Passage omitted

Lahi What did you do after the war in Kosova?

Malecka laughs I worked for some time in the press and information section of the TMK Kosovo Protection Corps . Presently, I am dedicated to a mission helping the families of UCK martyrs and the war disabled, who sacrificed parts of their bodies for a free Kosova.

SOURCE: Ballkan, Tirana, in Albanian 18 Apr 04

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BBC Monitoring Europe - Political
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