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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK

World: Europe

US volunteers join Kosovo rebels

New arrivals train on the beach

A huge influx of volunteers is flooding into Albania to join the Kosovo Liberation Army in its fight against Serb forces.

Kosovo: Special Report
Ethnic Albanians are leaving their jobs across Europe and the United States to return to their homeland.

They say they are ready to die in the battle against the Serbs.

Our correspondent in Albania, Jeremy Cooke, says the passenger ferry from Italy has become a troop ship.

Jeremy Cooke in Albania meets enthusiastic volunteers headed for the front line
The boat is packed every day with fighters - including teenagers and girls - ready to take on the most battle hardened army of Europe.

[ image: Volunteers are proud of their dual culture]
Volunteers are proud of their dual culture
Some are KLA veterans, but others are fresh volunteers - some have never set foot outside America before.

They are processed in secret locations before being sent for a brief intensive period of training.

Within two weeks they will be on the front lines. The BBC was told at least 16 volunteers who had arrived in the last few weeks had been killed in the fighting.

'I've seen my sisters raped'

One 16-year-old girl told why she was prepared to die for the cause. ''I've seen my sisters getting raped and little children getting killed so I decided to come,'' she said. ''Of course I'm ready [to die].''

[ image: Fighters from New York: We're ready to die]
Fighters from New York: We're ready to die
Another volunteer from New York said: ''We're coming because we don't want to send Americans or Nato men or women to die because we're here to die. Our fight is right and we're going to win.''

Their 'platoon leader' is a 19-year-old from the Bronx who has basic training with America's National Guard. He says his parents encouraged him to join the fight.

Recent reports indicate the war on the ground is hotting up with the KLA receiving large reinforcements as the ethnic Albanians are pushed out of Kosovo.

Last week the army seized a Yugoslav Army lieutenant and handed him over to the Albanian authorities. The soldier is now being held as Nato's first prisoner of war.

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