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Paving the way: A Kosovo hero's path from rebel to road-builder

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"I'm restless by nature, just ask my wife," he says. "Building a country was a dream of my generation. Now, I'm living that dream, but there's a lot to do.

"Our people are hard workers, but they need a good manager to channel their energy."

Upgrading donkey paths to modern highways

An executive from a Western nongovernmental organization, who has lived in Kosovo for several years, describes Limaj as "one of the good ones.... His methods aren't typical, but they are practical, and probably what Kosovo needs right now."

Roads in this agricultural society have been so haphazard and poor that travelers from northern Europe routinely got lost, even in recent years. A 21st-century road infrastructure means development. Yet a decade after NATO intervened, and despite a highway budget, little was done. Village roads remained primitive, unpaved, and a nightmare in winter. The main "highway" from the airport to Pristina was two-laned, donkey-laden, and potholed.

Yet last year, Limaj's ministry paved or repaved nearly 500 miles of highway – adopting a strategy of connecting villages with one another and with key arteries.

"It was so much road that we all started to wonder why it hadn't happened before," says Artan Mustafa, political editor at the Express newspaper. "Obviously, one reason is because Limaj has power. No one can say to [Commander Steel] that the road won't go through here or there. He tells you, you don't tell him."

Speaking in his office near the new parliament building, Limaj explains his passion for his homeland. "I feel that 24 hours a day. It was a dream of my youth, to have a free country," he says. "If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that freedom was impossible. But God gave us the opportunity."

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