Concern in Macedonia at explosion of crime in Kosovo

SKOPJE, Sep 17, 2000 -- (AFP) Women, immigrants, drugs, weapons, cigarettes, alcohol: trafficking is exploding in Kosovo, warn experts in neighboring Macedonia, wary of the impact on regional stability and very critical of the international response.

"Criminal activities like arms and drugs smuggling develop, connections are being made with well known foreign mafia figures, for example with the Italian Mafia, and they increasingly penetrate into some (western) European countries," Macedonia's former president Kiro Gligorov has warned.

"That is maybe the biggest danger, that the wider region could be criminalized," he added.

"The European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and all the other international organizations are partly responsible for the situation since they support leaders, for instance in Macedonia, Montenegro or Kosovo, who are involved in these criminal activities," said Pavle Trajanov, former interior minister.

"I can see their motives, since those leaders' policies are against (Yugoslav President) Milosevic," Trajanov added.

Ljubomir Frchkoski, another former interior minister, said he failed to understand what he called the EU's reluctance to act more decisively.

"They are the main victims of the Balkans narcotics route," he said.

Since June, more than 1,300 trucks with smuggled cigarettes have crossed the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, Trajanov said.

"Everything is organized by the Macedonian government, (Albanian leader) Hashim Thaci in Kosovo and (President Milo) Djukanovic in Montenegro," Trajanov added.

The cigarettes enter without being taxed via Kosovo into Montenegro and Western Europe, Trajanov said, adding that the smugglers were bribing ruling parties in Skopje with DEM 20,000 to 30,000 (USD 8,800 to 13,200, EUR 10,200 to 15,300) for each truck.

Those parties had received more than DEM 130 millions (USD 57 millions, EUR 66 millions) since June 1999 -- the end of Serbian control of Kosovo -- from tobacco, alcohol, coffee and fuel smuggling alone, Trajanov said.

"Albanians are the main ones responsible. The Albanian mafias could not infiltrate into Macedonia for years and were not even present in Kosovo. But now they are spreading very fast," he emphasized.

Trajanov warned that some criminal groups launched drug trafficking business and prostitution, especially with girls from east European countries. "The current chaos in Kosovo is now spilling over in Macedonia," he said.

According to Trajanov, the mafias involved in drug business are concentrated in Kosovo.

"Drugs are re-packed and shipped to Western Europe. Heroin comes from Turkey, across Albania or Macedonia, but currently mainly through Kosovo. Also a lot of marijuana is coming from Albania. It goes mainly to Greece and west European markets by trucks," Trajanov explains.

Many criminal groups have made a lot of money since 1999 and "we have information that they are starting to buy new dangerous weapons, very sophisticated logistical and communication systems, and to hire instructors in weapons and explosives," Trajanov added, anticipating an increase of terrorist activities in the region.

Meanwhile Frchkoski stressed that the main issue was to reduce organized crime in Kosovo, warning that the EU should share the concern since it faces the severest consequences.

In Kosovo, between its UN civil administration and NATO troops, "there is a gap regarding the most important issue: tackling organized crime."

"There is lack of special units with a police capacity. That is the most important issue now. That is why international structures there are not so efficient," Frchkoski concluded.

Original article