While not founded nor operating within Albania, the KLA was an organization of ethnic-Albanians who operated in Kosovo between 1993 - 1999.
They were an organization of fierce nationalists who sought to separate the territory of Kosovo from FR Yugoslavia and to join in the formation of a so-called 'Greater Albania.'
This included the territories of Kosovo, certain areas of southern Montenegro, northwestern Greece, portions of Macedonia and also the Preševo Valley of Serbia. The KLA was focused primarily in Kosovo, for which they gain their name. But they had many allies, including the Republic of Albania and likeminded separatist groups in the Preševo Valley, aptly named the 'Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac.'
The concept of a 'Greater Albania' seems to be traced back to an administrative division of the Ottoman Empire known as the Janina Vilayet, which encompassed many of these areas as a semi-autonomous region of the Albanian people, and which was lost to them during the First Balkan War of 1912-1913. To this end, the KLA and groups like them wished to reclaim territories which they felt rightly belonged to them.
At the height of their power they are thought to have had anywhere between 25,000 - 45,000 fighters, and are thought to have been funded primarily by the state of Albania and top Albanian crime groups and organizations.
This subsequent criminal legacy has left the KLA greatly intertwined with organized crime in the region. As they are thought to have engaged in acts of large scale narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling and even organ trafficking. As well as the later introduction of brothels and the pimping of prostitutes. All this in order to fund their revolutionary movement.
Top KLA figures were thought to be in on these criminal conspiracies, including Xhavit Haliti; one of the KLA's founding members and head of logistics. As well as Hashim Thaçi, the current President of Kosovo. These figures, among others of the KLA's inner and founding circle are thought to have been greatly involved with organized crime groups in the Republic of Albania at the time.
Beyond narcotics and the unsubstantiated claims of illegal organ trafficking, the KLA has also suffered allegations of using child soldiers to further their ambitions. 1,000 or more children from Macedonia were reportedly members of the organization, a claim supported by then-Minister of the Interior, Pavle Trajanov.
Many of the children reportedly recruited by the KLA were under the age of eighteen, and the majority of them served as cooks for the adult soldiers and did not fight on the front lines. This was not true for all of them however, as reports show in neighbouring Montenegro that ethnic-Albanian freedom fighters recruited soldiers as young as fifteen, and similarly in southern Serbia.
The organization had also suffered allegations of participating in a number of massacres of non-Albanian peoples. Primarily Serbs and Roma whom were found butchered and burned such as in Gnjilane and Orahovac, where a total of 127 persons were thought to have been killed.
The KLA is also known to have operated a number of prison camps where prisoners have claimed they witnessed or faced torture and extrajudicial killings. Such as in the case of the Orahovac massacre wherein 47 persons were executed in a KLA prison camp and left dumped in a clandestine grave which was only discovered in 2005.
The KLA was disbanded in late 1999, and many of its members went on to join the Kosovo Protection Corps (1999-2009) as well as the Kosovo Police. Many of its top ranking members went on to join Kosovar politics as we have seen, and continue to wield great influence in the territory to this day.