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Ever since the armouries were looted in civil unrest two years ago, most Albanian households have at least one AK47 slung from a coat- rack. But in Bajram Curri, the family arsenal often takes up a whole room and typically includes anti-tank mines, hand grenades and rocket launchers. It is through this highland settlement that the KLA must bring weapons and recruits en route to Kosovo and the war against the Serbs. And to make their daily passage without fear of ambush, the guerrillas have bought off a local clan chief, Fatmir Haklaj.
Mr Haklaj is Bajram Curri's most powerful man. Not only is he the godfather of the clan responsible for the most daring acts of highway robbery, he is also head of the police "rapid deployment unit". He used to be police chief but was demoted last January after he shot nine men dead, one of them a fellow police officer, in revenge for the assassination of his brother.
Mr Haklaj killed one man for each bullet found in his brother's body, demonstrating the neat sense of symmetry expounded in the local blood- feud rule book, known as the Canon of Lek Dukagjini after the medieval tribal chieftain who made it law. In his current position, Mr Haklaj has overseen the comprehensive fleecing of the foreign press corps as it has endeavoured to follow the KLA into Kosovo. Their Range Rovers and Land Cruisers can be seen parading up and down Bajram Curri's main street, now fitted with dark curtains across the rear windows.
This is clearly the car accessory of choice here, and may be designed to make assassinations harder. The safest place in town is probably the Hotel Shkelzeni which is guarded by Albanian special forces in blue berets. It is an austere, communist- era concrete block that boasts a mention in the Blue Guide to Albania: Visiting journalists have been robbed within minutes of checking out. Mr Haklaj seems to have taken a liking to these border monitors; they have only had one car hijacked in the past few months.
Unexpectedly, the Haklaj name came to the rescue when our turn came to fall prey to the local industry. The driver two US journalists and I had hired to take us to the border decided, high in the mountains, to double the fare. The driver sped off, abandoning us to an evening descent back to Bajram Curri on foot. This dramatic change made no sense at all until the next day, when we met a friend from Time magazine, Massimo Calabresi.