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Nato force 'feeds Kosovo sex trade'

London Guardian | May 7 2004

Western troops, policemen, and civilians are largely to blame for the rapid growth of the sex slavery industry in Kosovo over the past five years, a mushrooming trade in which hundreds of women, many of them under-age girls, are tortured, raped, abused and then criminalised, Amnesty International said yesterday.

In a report on the rapid growth of sex-trafficking and forced prostitution rackets since Nato troops and UN administrators took over the Balkan province in 1999, Amnesty said Nato soldiers, UN police, and western aid workers operated with near impunity in exploiting the victims of the sex traffickers.

As a result of the influx of thousands of Nato-led peacekeepers, "Kosovo soon became a major destination country for women trafficked into forced prostitution. A small-scale local market for prostitution was transformed into a large-scale industry based on trafficking, predominantly run by criminal networks."

The international presence in Kosovo continues to generate 80% of the income for the pimps, brothel-owners, and mafiosi who abduct local girls or traffic women mainly from Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia to Kosovo via Serbia, the report said, although the international "client base" for the sex trade has fallen to 20% last year from 80% four years ago.

Up to 2,000 women are estimated to have been coerced into sex slavery in Kosovo, which had seen "an unprecedented escalation in trafficking" in recent years. The number of premises in Kosovo listed by a special UN police unit as being involved in the rackets has swollen from 18 in 1999 to 200 this year.

A few weeks ago the UN's department of peacekeeping in New York acknowledged that "peacekeepers have come to be seen as part of the problem in trafficking rather than the solution".

The sex slavery in Kosovo parallels similar phenomena next door in Bosnia, where the arrival of thousands of Nato peacekeepers in 1995 fuelled a thriving forced prostitution industry.

International personnel in Kosovo enjoy immunity from prosecution unless this is waived by the UN in New York for UN employees or by national military chiefs for Nato-led troops.

One police officer last year and another the year before had their immunity waived, enabling criminal prosecutions.

"Amnesty International has been unable to find any evidence of any criminal proceedings related to trafficking against any military personnel in their home countries," the 80-page report said.

The report said that US, French, German and Italian soldiers were known to have been involved in the rackets.

Criticism of the international troops in Kosovo follows a recent broader indictment of the Kosovo mission by the International Crisis Group thinktank, which called for the mission to be overhauled.

Women were bought and sold for up to £2,000 and then kept in appalling conditions as slaves by their "owners", Amnesty said. They were routinely raped "as a means of control and coercion", beaten, held at gunpoint, robbed, and kept in darkened rooms unable to go out.

Apart from women trafficked into Kosovo, there is a worsening problem with girls abducted locally. A Kosovo support group working with victims reported that a third of these locals were under 14, and 80% were under 18.

The UN admission in March that its peacekeepers were part of the problem was welcome, said Amnesty.

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