Nato forces spur Kosovo prostitution boom

By Claire Snegaroff

January 5, 2000

The international troop presence in Kosovo is fuelling a prostitution boom in the Yugoslav province where brothels and girly bars are proliferating.

A traffic in women of eastern European origin has grown up since the arrival in July of the 45,000 men of the NATO force KFOR, and personnel of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The women all come from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Bulgaria. Most are here of their own accord, but some have been kidnapped by or sold to their pimps.

All the brothels and bars are targeting foreign customers. Prices are high compared with those in the local flesh market, DM 100 (about $50) for half-an-hour in a brothel at Slatina, close to Pristina, which is near the headquarters of Russian forces.

Southern Kosovo is particularly affected. "Organized crime is deeply rooted there. It is a transit area between Albania and Macedonia," said an Italian carabiniere, who asked not to be named.

"Kosovo used to be a crossing point on the way to Europe, but now the women stop over here," he said.

An expert on the question said: "The great majority of the women come of their own free will, but do not necessarily know the conditions under which they will be working. Often they are not paid and their pimp keeps their passports. The trouble is they still believe they have a future."

He said some come believing they are to perform in cabaret acts, without knowing they will have to prostitute themselves. Some are kidnapped or are sold off.

"They may be bought for between 3,000 and 4,000 marks," said the expert.

Ludmila, a pretty 23-year-old Ukrainian, blonde with overdone lipstick, used to work in Istanbul. She was sold five times before ending up in November at the Night Club International in Slatina, where about 15 other women live.

"Our customers are Albanians and Macedonians, but also KFOR soldiers, Russians or Americans," Ludmila said.

Another Ukrainian, Katarina, 22, said she was kidnapped in Bulgaria and forced to work in a Macedonian brothel under harsh conditions before arriving in Kosovo.

But she said she did not want to move on. "Here, I can make some money," said Katarina, adding that she was allowed to keep 40 percent of the cash that her customers pay directly to the manager of the Night Club.

United Nations police seem powerless to deal with the problem. "We do not know which laws to enforce, said Orest Hnatykin, Canadian chief of U.N. detectives in Pristina.

The U.N. mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) recently decided to abandon the Yugoslav legal code and to enforce the law as it was applied before 1989, when Belgrade ended the province's autonomous regime.

Under Yugoslav law, pimping is an offence, but the police still do not have copies of the pre-1989 legal code.

Still worse, the U.N. police force is handicapped by shortages of equipment. "An inquiry takes five times longer than at home," said Hnatykin. His unit is 25-strong, has three computers and three telephones. "Detectives sometimes have to wait for half-a-day for a car," he said.

His unit is reduced to raiding brothels and bars to allow those women who wish to return to their home countries, with the help of some of the NGOs.

Swamped by the task of the political and economic construction of the province, the UNMIK has been unable to set up any assistance or medical regime for the prostitutes.

"Trafficking in women is a real problem, but it's not at the top of my list of priorities," admitted Roma Bhattacharjea, who is in charge of women's affairs with UNMIK.

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