Dozens of soldiers filed one by one into a schoolhouse with broken windows and empty classrooms to sit before a trio of officers who were there to tally the personal costs of a war of liberation and decide the future of its fighters. "What were the consequences for your family," the officers asked, "of your participation in the war? Did you suffer trauma?"
These were questions never asked before by the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the soldiers sat nervously in a patchwork quilt of camouflage uniforms, trying to ignore the rainwater dripping from the ceiling. Most replies were unremittingly grim: My brother was killed. My sister was killed. My father was beaten. My house was looted and destroyed. My uncle was killed. Yes, of course, we experienced psychological trauma.
The officers then posed a question designed partly to measure the soldiers' fitness to serve in a future police force or National Guard: "Can you imagine taking revenge?" But the replies turned out to be of little use in deciding who is eligible and who is not, because they were virtually all the same. "Yes," the fighters said time after time. "If I get the chance, if I ever see one of the Serb bastards, I will take revenge."
The demobilization of the Kosovo Liberation Army is underway while the wounds of the war -- both emotional and physical -- are still fresh and on display. Deprived by NATO soldiers of any responsibility for ensuring the security of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population, the army is taking a hard look at itself to decide what its soldiers will become now that peace is at hand.
Thousands have already taken off their mismatched uniforms, hitched rides on tractors or trucks and returned to the shelled, looted and burned villages of Kosovo to try to re-create their prewar civilian lives. Some of those who moved to the capital of Pristina have formed a new political party in an attempt to dominate Kosovo's postwar governance. But an estimated 5,000 soldiers -- by NATO's count -- are still milling aimlessly in barracks dispersed throughout Kosovo that must be emptied within 70 days under an agreement with NATO.
The four-page questionnaire now being filled out by these soldiers is meant to help the KLA and the West reintegrate them into civilian life after 17 months of bitter ethnic conflict against Yugoslav government security forces.
If today's interviews here are broadly representative, however, many rebels are not ready to walk away from military life despite the brutal hardships the conflict imposed on them, their relatives and Kosovo itself.
Most of those interviewed said they want to serve either in the National Guard -- a military structure that has not been authorized by the United Nations -- or join a new police force with tough entrance requirements. Remaining as KLA soldiers is not an option, the West has said.
Some of the soldiers indicated they are still wrestling with the consequences of an agreement by NATO and the provisional ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo that the KLA must be disbanded as a military force by Sept. 19; they said they did not know what they wanted to do. But only two of an estimated 70 soldiers who appeared before the review board today stated clearly that they wanted to return to their civilian occupations, driving a truck and playing guitar in a rock band.
The task of finding something to do besides carry a weapon is complicated partly by the fact that Kosovo's economy was devastated by the war and civilian jobs will remain scarce for months and perhaps years. The communist system that prevailed under Belgrade-appointed Serbian administrators was bloated and inefficient, making huge job cutbacks likely in city halls, utilities and state-owned media. The police force to be established here by next spring is one of the few growth sectors in local government.
But a bigger problem in finding the right jobs for the KLA's unpaid veterans was articulated by Musa Jakupi, 29, the commander of a unit of the KLA's 152nd Brigade, which operated in the region northwest of the now destroyed city of Podujevo. He said it is still too soon to expect the ethnic Albanian fighters to develop much tolerance or open-mindedness, "because you can still smell the blood and see dead people around. To live here and see the people who did the crimes walking down the street makes us all allergic."
The combatants in the Podujevo area -- including the 151st Brigade as well as the 152nd -- saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Serb-led Yugoslav offensive that began on March 20. Arif Muqolli, a schoolteacher and former Yugoslav army officer who is the 152nd's commander, said that 1,632 men and women had reported to him at one time or another, but that he did not have enough guns for all of them. "War creates only damage and hardship, with the exception of the profiteers," Muqolli said.
Most fighters received only two weeks of rudimentary military training before they were sent to the front lines. "Every day, we had wounded people," said Mustaf Hoxha, 45.
Those who were captured by the Serbs apparently suffered harshly; British troops reported finding at least 20 graves with victims of executions.
Agim Ceku, a former Croatian army general who became chief of the KLA's general staff after the fighting began, said he is worried that some of those who witnessed atrocities may experience the same combination of malaise and stress experienced by some veterans of the Vietnam War. He said the aim of the survey is partly to learn who is ill, who needs medical treatment and who deserves a commendation.
The answers to many other questions, such as the nature of the KLA soldiers' previous contacts with Serbs, have never been systematically compiled by the KLA because much of its recruitment occurred while the fighting was underway.
Virtually all of those who joined say they had suffered some direct or indirect harm from Serbian police before the war, such as lootings of their homes or beatings and harassment of their relatives.
"The paramilitaries knew I was involved," said Gezim Dubrani, 25. "They wanted to kill my father, and they beat him and asked him where I was." He said he experienced some trauma, and added that "maybe I need a little medical treatment." Fadil Rahimi, 31, said: "They looked for weapons and beat me. My house is destroyed." Jakupi, the unit commander, said, "My brother is a prisoner because of me, because I am a soldier."
NATO officials said that they support the KLA's effort to survey its soldiers, and that they want to provide job counseling and possibly even scholarships for KLA fighters who agree to return to school. They also say that KLA fighters may form the backbone of a new police force, if they pass a battery of psychological tests and other examinations to confirm their abilities and ethnic tolerance.
But what will the soldiers do if the National Guard -- which Ceku says is needed to help the police in catastrophic circumstances -- is not approved by NATO?
"We are making clear that these are our aspirations," Ceku said, speaking about a plan to recruit the best 4,000 soldiers into a regular guard and keep many more as reservists. KFOR, the NATO force in Kosovo, "is not going to be here forever." NATO officials, he added, "all say it's not the time for this now. Yes, I am worried. It's a problem for me, because we know that in the future, Kosovo will need some form of defense" on its own.
Most of the soldiers here say they know the war is over and no early resumption of fighting is likely. But they want a job, and they worry about Kosovo's future security. And remaining part of Yugoslavia is unimaginable, they say.
While they wait, the soldiers sleep on the floor of classrooms without windows. They have no electricity or running water, and spend much of their days filling out forms or helping to set up tents for the homeless and distribute humanitarian aid at a relief center several blocks away. "Whether they wind up working as farmers, factory workers or in the police, they will continue to be our soldiers," Muqolli said.