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Dec 24 06 8:52 PM

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MSNBC.com

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Sold as a sex slave in Europe
MSNBC.com exposes a sexual slavery network
By Preston Mendenhall
MSNBC
VELESTA, Macedonia - Olga winced as she drew back the bandage on her right breast, revealing an infected puncture wound that hadn’t healed since a man bit her in a fit of sexual rage. But the wound, for which the 19-year-old Moldovan lacked even basic medicine, is only a small part of Olga’s daily agony. For more than a year she has been held as a sex slave in this town in western Macedonia, where human trafficking flourishes and young girls are forced to endure the sexual whims of thousands of men.
Sitting in a brothel bedroom in Velesta, a town synonymous with forced prostitution that police and experts consider one of the most dangerous places in Europe, Olga said that her “owner” would kill her for telling a reporter about her state of captivity. But the cruel conditions under which she is held, and her deteriorating mental and physical health, compelled her to speak out.
Her head hung in shame, Olga’s dark brown eyes welled with tears. She brushed back her long black hair, revealing a fair complexion flushed with anger at her fate. “There is only one word for this,” she said. “Slavery.”
Forced to have sex with as many as 10 men every day, Olga and other women clandestinely interviewed by MSNBC.com as part of a four-month investigation into the sex trade in Europe, insisted that their real identities not be revealed.
Their fears are not unfounded. Those brave enough to seek help have been savagely beaten — and sometimes killed — for trying to escape.
Flourishing sex trade
Olga is one small cog in a huge transnational industry, and Macedonia is merely a way station on a path to bondage that begins in impoverished Eastern Europe and the chaotic states that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and stretches to Western Europe, the Middle East and beyond.
In Europe alone, officials estimate that more than 200,000 women and girls — one-quarter of all women trafficked globally — are smuggled out of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics each year, the bulk of whom end up working as enslaved prostitutes. Almost half are transported to Western Europe. Roughly a quarter end up in the United States. Human rights activists say the numbers do not tell the full story, because most women remain silent rather than turn to frequently corrupt authorities for help.
The rapid rise of this sex slave trade can be traced to the fall of the Soviet Union, where borders once heavily guarded by the Red Army suddenly became porous and Soviet republics and Eastern European satellites once in the Kremlin’s grasp saw their industries and subsidies collapse overnight. Millions of young women like Olga came of age amid this economic misery. Their childhood fantasies of a better life in the West soon became a human trafficker’s golden opportunity.
Moldova's misery
Nowhere is this trafficking worse than it is in Moldova, Olga’s home, where experts estimate that since the fall of the Soviet Union between 200,000 and 400,000 women have been sold into prostitution — perhaps up to 10 percent of the female population.
The numbers are staggering, but for Liuba Revenko of the International Organization for Migration in Moldova the bondage of the country’s young women has become routine. “Moldovans are a hybrid population of Russians, Romanians, Jews, Ukrainians and Bulgarians,” Revenko said. “That creates a special race of women that are beautiful and in demand. They have no future. They are a good target for the traffickers.”
In Velesta, a town so small that the 120 Moldovan girls working as prostitutes there make up a sizeable part of the population, the sex slaves are rarely seen during the day. Kept under lock and key in the back rooms of a dozen “kafane,” or café-bars that double as brothels, they are summoned by their owners when a customer arrives. Then the girls, most in their late teens or early 20s, are paraded in skimpy lingerie before clients who “pick us according to their tastes,” said Irina, a Moldovan who answered a want-ad to be a waitress in Italy, but ended up trapped in a Balkans brothel instead of working in a restaurant in southern Sicily.
Rural Moldovan women, lacking education and desperate to escape, are easy targets, activists say. Sometimes the bondage is built around a debt that is impossible to pay off. Other times, it is simply brutal captivity.
They end up servicing clients with the false hope of working off a “debt” to their owners, who continue to entice them with real jobs in Europe.
Unwitting victims
The women’s tales of bondage are hauntingly similar. Olga, the Moldovan with the breast wound, was virtually kidnapped when she played hooky from school in rural Moldova. Initially, she was drawn to the prospect of a new life in Italy — far away from her alcoholic mother and abusive brother. But the next thing she knew, a Serb smuggler called “Dragan” was pulling her out of a car trunk in the Romanian town of Timisoara, on the border with Yugoslavia. Dragan and his Romanian pals loaded 10 girls on a boat to cross the Danube. After a few days in a basement near Belgrade, Olga was led across the Serbian frontier with Macedonia — under the eyes of obliging border guards — and brought to Velesta. “There were clients on the very first night,” she said.
With no passport and little idea where she was, Olga was raped, beaten into submission and humiliated until she no longer had the will to challenge her horrible fate.
“Meti made me clean the toilet with my tongue. It was horrible and dirty. I think they did it because I was the newest girl,” Olga said of her ethnic Albanian owner. “He made me lick another girl’s … you know, down there. And then he laughed.”
Young and beautiful, Olga has stayed in Velesta longer than most trafficked women, many of whom are moved on into Albania and Greece after the local population “breaks them in or gets tired of them,” Olga said. Once they reach the Albanian coast, they are easily trafficked to Italy, where the European Union’s lax border controls allow them to be smuggled deep inside the continent.
Billions in profits
Ten years of wars in the Balkans have turned the region into a trafficking highway paved with lawlessness and corruption that has prompted former enemies — Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and ethnic Albanians — to set aside ethnic rivalries in the name of vast profits. “You’re talking about big international organizations,” said Rudolf Perina, a former U.S. ambassador to Moldova who was involved in Washington-funded anti-trafficking efforts.
Ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo, Macedonia and south Serbia — long the masters of drug running in the Balkans — are deeply involved in the human smuggling business, using the flesh trade to fund their separatist movements.
Luisa, a 32-year-old single Moldovan mother whose neighbor persuaded her to accept a job in Italy and “marry a rich Roman,” found herself repeatedly raped by her “owner,” Dilaver Bojku, an ethnic Albanian trafficking kingpin from Velesta. European law enforcement officials say Bojku, one of the sex trade’s “Most Wanted,” has used cash and, reportedly, contacts with ethnic Albanian rebels to avoid arrest for years. “He bought me for $700,” Luisa said.
She was freed in a police raid on Velesta, after MSNBC.com confronted Macedonia’s interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, with tales of sex slavery only a few hours’ drive from his office in the capital of Skopje.
But Olga and other women who took great risk to speak about their predicament were nowhere to be found.
The Macedonian SWAT team that raided bars called Coca Cola, Safari and Bela Dona was only partly successful.
Tipped off to the raids, brothel owners had spirited girls out secret exits in the backrooms of the bars and hidden them in the woods behind the buildings. The sheets on the beds were still warm. With the exception of a few minor pimps, the kingpins like Bojku escaped.
Lack of laws
The raid on Velesta was the first by Macedonian police, long wary of upsetting the uneasy peace between the country’s Macedonian Slavs and ethnic Albanian minority.
Even Boskovski admitted his own policemen were on the smugglers’ payroll, making it virtually impossible to surprise the traffickers and rescue their sex slaves. Boskovski also complained about a lack of laws to keep traffickers behind bars. “The punishments are not really severe,” he said.
In an interview with MSNBC.com, Vitalie Curarari, the head of Moldova’s anti-trafficking police, lashed out at the media for “sensationalizing” sex slavery and placed much of the blame for trafficking on the women themselves. “Fifty percent of our women just go abroad to find another man and then come back to divorce their husbands,” Curarari said.
In the heart of Europe
Farther along the trafficking pipeline, hundreds of women and girls are smuggled into Europe every day and forced onto the streets of cities like Hamburg, Paris, London and Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, a city synonymous with hedonism, is perhaps best known for its legalized sex industry, in which prostitutes pay taxes and undergo regular health exams. The city’s Red Light District is a virtual Disneyland of sex — with only European Union passport holders allowed to ply the trade.
But only a few miles’ drive from the city center, traditional Dutch tolerance is helping fuel the trafficking problem. In Theemsweg, a fenced-in, football field-sized parking lot built by the government for unregulated sex workers, girls sit in bus shelters — also courtesy of the government — waiting for clients. There are no EU citizens here — and the prostitutes’ countries of origin are strikingly familiar: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic. On weekends, men looking for cheap sex wait in cars that back up for a mile. Sexual encounters, which take place right in the cars, cost $20.
Smuggled into Europe
Asked how she got to Theemsweg, 20-year-old Anna from Russia’s Far East said, “You don’t want to know.” Dutch police officials, speaking privately, estimate that as many as 70 percent of the prostitutes in the Netherlands are working illegally, using false documents provided by smugglers to skirt Dutch and European laws.
With the women facing poor odds, activists are working overtime to try to thwart traffickers and rescue some of the thousands of sex slaves in Europe. The International Organization for Migration, backed by U.S. funding, has managed to return only 400 of the perhaps hundreds of thousands of Moldovan women victimized by the sex trade. Activists are beating a path to rural areas to educate young girls about the dangers of the trade.
Twenty-one-year-old Natasha, a single mother, considers herself one of the lucky ones. She escaped Velesta, where her clients included NATO soldiers from Germany, France, Britain and the United States who were stationed in Macedonia for peacekeeping duties.
It was an Albanian client who took pity on Natasha and bought her from her owner for 5,000 Deutsche Marks, about $2,500. “Yes, I’m back in Moldova, but it’s difficult,” she said in a village three hours north of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. “We do not have money to buy bread. We do not have money to pay for the electricity.”
For Olga, tending to her sore breast in captivity, anything sounds better than Velesta. “What kind of animal can do this to me?” she demanded, tears streaming down her face. “All of Macedonia is filled with girls like me, and we’re all crying.”
Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor. MSNBC’s Bob Arnot, MSNBC.com’s Andrew Lock and David Binder contributed to this report.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071965/
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© 2006 MSNBC.com

MSNBC.com

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Escaping brutal bondage in Europe
Few sex slaves survive to tell a tale of forced sex and torture
By Preston Mendenhall
MSNBC
May, 2002 -- DROKI, Moldova - At first, Natasha couldn’t believe the turn of events — she was being rescued by a man with whom she had been forced to have sex. Apparently the man couldn’t bear Natasha’s anguish over being tricked into prostitution, so he bought her from her pimp and sent her home to Moldova.
Before she ended up as a sex slave in the Balkans, Natasha thought she had found the answer to her troubles. Back home in rural Moldova, a former Soviet republic bordered by Romania and Ukraine, she had met a seemingly nice man named Ruslan from the next town over. He proposed they get married and move to Italy, where they could buy an apartment and earn $1,000 a month — plenty to build a new life with Natasha’s 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
The 21-year-old woman says she was desperate to escape Moldova, a former Soviet republic where the collapse of communism in 1991 still reverberates today. With almost no exports and natural resources to cushion the loss of Kremlin subsidies, the country’s economy is in a free fall. A quarter of the population is unemployed.
Natasha quit school at age 12 to help earn money for her family to survive. She did manual labor on construction sites and worked in a beet-root factory for 40 cents a day. By the time she turned 15, she was pregnant with her daughter, Korina.
A shotgun marriage ended in divorce, and Natasha and her baby daughter moved back in with her parents in Droki — a dusty farming village of 200 with no running water.
“Everything is difficult here,” Natasha said. “We do not have money to buy bread. We do not have money to pay for the electricity.”
Trapped
Ruslan, pretending to be her suitor, took Natasha to meet some acquaintances and said they would take her to Italy. That was the last Natasha saw of him. “I liked him, but I also needed a job. I had no money,” Natasha said. “Ruslan sold me, and I didn’t even know. I cried. I wanted to go home. But I couldn’t do anything. It was too late.”
On buses and cars — and crossing borders on foot — Natasha followed a path to sex slavery trodden by thousands of other hapless women, passing, under the watchful eyes of a gang of Balkans thugs, through Romania, Serbia and Kosovo before ending up in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
In Velesta, a key transit town in the sex trade where women are beaten and raped into submission, Natasha was bought by Meti, an ethnic Albanian pimp wanted by the Macedonian police on smuggling and prostitution charges.
“Meti beat me if he heard that I didn’t want to go with a client, or if I disobeyed him,” Natasha said.
Clients by the dozens would come to the bars where Meti made her work, the Bela Dona and Club 69. Natasha estimates she was forced to sleep with more than 1,000 men during her nine months in Velesta. Besides the Albanians and Macedonians, there were men from “France, Germany and the United States,” Natasha said, referring to soldiers from the NATO peacekeeping mission in Macedonia and nearby Kosovo.
“They were as bad as the rest,” Natasha said. “They did anything they wanted to us. And besides, if Meti heard me asking them for help, he would have killed me.”
Rare rescues
Rarely do local police rescue women from forced prostitution. Even though she was surrounded by a multinational peacekeeping force, Natasha’s saviorappeared in the form of a client, Safat, who used her sexually three times before negotiating a deal with her pimp — and paying $2,500 to set her free.
“I was crying all the time with clients,” Natasha said. “I guess that was too much for him.”
Safat took Natasha to the Macedonian police, but only after contacting a commander he knew was not on the payroll of the country’s many human traffickers. With no money or documents, Natasha was dropped off at a shelter run by the International Organization for Migration in Skopje, the Macedonian capital.
Although the group deals with numerous migration issues, its work has become synonymous with the repatriation of victims of the sex trade. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the organization rushed to open offices in most of the 15 countries that emerged from communism’s collapse. But while tens of thousands of women go missing each year, only a few hundred make their way home with the organization’s help.
Rebuilding lives
With the group’s help, Natasha returned to Moldova, and the economic misery she had hoped to escape. She has been reunited with her daughter, now 6, but the trauma of slavery never goes away.
“I am very weak and have no strength. I have awful headaches, and I tremble all the time.” Natasha also said she had “other health problems,” but refused to elaborate.
For Natasha’s mother, Nina, the fear of traffickers trying to steal her children was a threat before Ruslan began wooing her daughter.
“Two years ago, before all this happened to Natasha, my sister who lives in Russia invited Natasha and her sister to St. Petersburg for vacation,” Nina said. “The girls called me to tell me that my sister — my own sister — had tried to sell them to some Turks.”
A survey of rescued Moldovan victims conducted by the International Organization for Migration shows that more than half are trafficked by friends or acquaintances desperate to make money.
“If my sibling was ready to sell my children, my heart told me that Natasha should not go and work abroad,” Nina said, adding that she tried to stop Natasha from accepting Ruslan’s offer to move to Italy, but her daughter’s desire to leave Droki was too great.
Ruslan goes free
Natasha has not seen Ruslan since her return, but Nina, speaking in a hushed tone so her daughter couldn’t hear from the next room, said she tracked him down. He told her not to bother going to the police, because he had paid them off.
“The prosecutor sent me a letter which read that Natasha never met Ruslan, and that I made up the whole story. The letter said that I was only complaining about Ruslan because I didn’t want Natasha to live with him,” Nina said.
Natasha, meanwhile, said she lives in fear of being trafficked again. “I’m afraid to even leave the house or village. I tell everyone I meet to be careful, not to go abroad.”
Natasha said there is one man she would like to see again: her pimp, Meti. “I would use a pistol instead of words,” Natasha said. “I want to shoot him.”
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071966/
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© 2006 MSNBC.com

MSNBC.com

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Sex, drugs and guns in the Balkans
Ethnic Albanian rebels benefit from sex slavery
By David Binder and Preston Mendenhall
MSNBC
TIRANA, Albania - Organized crime syndicates in the Balkans, spawned when communism collapsed a decade ago, are thriving on illegal trade in drugs and sex slaves. The final destination for much of the goods and services is Western Europe. The trade, which yields billions of dollars each year, doesn’t just pay for the mansions and yachts of wealthy traffickers. It also has a political purpose — supporting the purchase of arms for Albanian rebels.
Nearly two years after NATO troops drove Serb forces from this region, rebels are believed to still be skimming profits from drug and sex slave trafficking to fund illegal arms purchases for ethnic Albanian rebel movements.
This trafficking has allowed both the Kosovo Liberation Army in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and the National Liberation Army in Macedonia to be outfitted with the latest in rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and night-vision goggles.
A look at European police blotters provides evidence of the close links between the rebels and Balkans trafficking. Two recent examples:
In 1999, a court in Brindisi, Italy, convicted an Albanian drug trafficker who also admitted obtaining weapons for the Kosovo Liberation Army.
In the first week of March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported a reversal of the main heroin trafficking route across Albania — into neighboring Kosovo rather than from Kosovo. Later, two Albanians were caught in Kukes with 20 kilos of heroin bound for Kosovo, and then on to Serbia and northern Europe.
Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Macedonian rebel group, conceded in an interview with MSNBC.com that some of the rebels’ funding might come from narcotics trafficking and a flourishing sex slave trade in the region.
But Ahmeti, whom the Macedonian government has arrested on drug charges in the past, maintained that the volume of donations to the rebel movement made it impossible to check their source.
“We try to vet all the money,” Ahmeti said in an interview high in his mountain headquarters in Sipkovica in northwestern Macedonia.
But even Ahmeti admitted he counts rich Balkans smugglers among his supporters. “We’re not so fanatic to say that such money could not reach us,” Ahmeti told MSNBC.com.
Guns for sex
As hard as it is to link sex slavery with illegal arms purchases, it’s arguable that the region’s sex slave trade has made crime syndicates rich. Of the nearly 1 million women trafficked as sex slaves worldwide each year, an estimated 200,000 pass through the Balkans, making their transfer through the war-torn region one of the area’s most lucrative businesses. Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia are filled with tiny brothels, where women, mostly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are forced to work as prostitutes under threat of death.
Ilir Gjoni, a former Albanian interior minister, and numerous other officials in the region said they are certain that Albanians who traffic in women and drugs contribute money to rebel arms purchases. But they admit there is no legal way of proving it.
Chaos breeds profits
The rise of organized crime syndicates flourished following the collapse of the communist system and frontier controls throughout most of the Balkan peninsula, resulting in lawlessness and civil conflict. The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together.
In many areas they work with the complicity of police and customs officials. The U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2001 notes that “instances of corruption and involvement of police in trafficking in persons occurred on the local level. At least two law enforcement officials have been dismissed for accepting bribes from traffickers.”
Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials.
Corrupt judges and prosecutors also frequently help arrested criminals.
On April 18, the Albanian state security service acknowledged the problem, saying in a statement that a “dangerous aspect of the growing power of the criminal groups is their ability to establish links with individuals in the top state administration offices and with politicians.”
Adding up the profits
No matter how much money the sex trade generates for traffickers, their big-ticket item continues to be drugs, police say.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 kilos of heroin are smuggled from Afghanistan to Western Europe every month, largely through the Balkans.
With a kilo of heroin worth between $50,000 and $200,000 on the street, the European traffic generates a market worth $7 billion a year, making it easily the biggest regional industry in the Balkans.
In February, Thomas Koeppel of the Swiss national police said, “Albanians account for 90 percent of our problems with drugs.”
Law enforcement authorities in the Balkans openly concede that ill-equipped and underpaid police and border guards can be easily persuaded with bribes to help traffickers.
And police are no match for the smugglers’ methods of evasion. For example, they throw away cell phones after one call to avoid electronic detection and transport their contraband in the latest speedboats.
Gjoni, the former Albanian interior minister, says that in contrast, rank-and-file police “need such basic things as flashlights, walkie-talkies, handcuffs. For now, we are likely to rely on tips from villagers.”
Regional initiative
At the regional level, things look more promising. The countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia have joined to create the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, or SECI, an American-inspired and assisted operation that began a coordinated war on trafficking in January 2001.
The group, whose headquarters are in Bucharest, Romania, it is beginning to get results. It says one initiative involving Italian, Moldovan and Romanian police led to the arrest of a dangerous mob leader, and another involving Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian authorities ended in the dismantling of a network that had trafficked 1,000 sex slaves.
Although both mobsters and police believe illegal traffic in people and goods is increasing, SECI law enforcement officials say their group is up to the challenge.
“It has traction,” says John F. Markey, the U.S. Customs Service special agent who coordinates SECI efforts at the U.S. State Department.
David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region. Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071971/
________________________________________
© 2006 MSNBC.com

MSNBC.com

________________________________________
Sex, drugs and guns in the Balkans
Ethnic Albanian rebels benefit from sex slavery
By David Binder and Preston Mendenhall
MSNBC
TIRANA, Albania - Organized crime syndicates in the Balkans, spawned when communism collapsed a decade ago, are thriving on illegal trade in drugs and sex slaves. The final destination for much of the goods and services is Western Europe. The trade, which yields billions of dollars each year, doesn’t just pay for the mansions and yachts of wealthy traffickers. It also has a political purpose — supporting the purchase of arms for Albanian rebels.
Nearly two years after NATO troops drove Serb forces from this region, rebels are believed to still be skimming profits from drug and sex slave trafficking to fund illegal arms purchases for ethnic Albanian rebel movements.
This trafficking has allowed both the Kosovo Liberation Army in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and the National Liberation Army in Macedonia to be outfitted with the latest in rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and night-vision goggles.
A look at European police blotters provides evidence of the close links between the rebels and Balkans trafficking. Two recent examples:
In 1999, a court in Brindisi, Italy, convicted an Albanian drug trafficker who also admitted obtaining weapons for the Kosovo Liberation Army.
In the first week of March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported a reversal of the main heroin trafficking route across Albania — into neighboring Kosovo rather than from Kosovo. Later, two Albanians were caught in Kukes with 20 kilos of heroin bound for Kosovo, and then on to Serbia and northern Europe.
Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Macedonian rebel group, conceded in an interview with MSNBC.com that some of the rebels’ funding might come from narcotics trafficking and a flourishing sex slave trade in the region.
But Ahmeti, whom the Macedonian government has arrested on drug charges in the past, maintained that the volume of donations to the rebel movement made it impossible to check their source.
“We try to vet all the money,” Ahmeti said in an interview high in his mountain headquarters in Sipkovica in northwestern Macedonia.
But even Ahmeti admitted he counts rich Balkans smugglers among his supporters. “We’re not so fanatic to say that such money could not reach us,” Ahmeti told MSNBC.com.
Guns for sex
As hard as it is to link sex slavery with illegal arms purchases, it’s arguable that the region’s sex slave trade has made crime syndicates rich. Of the nearly 1 million women trafficked as sex slaves worldwide each year, an estimated 200,000 pass through the Balkans, making their transfer through the war-torn region one of the area’s most lucrative businesses. Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia are filled with tiny brothels, where women, mostly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are forced to work as prostitutes under threat of death.
Ilir Gjoni, a former Albanian interior minister, and numerous other officials in the region said they are certain that Albanians who traffic in women and drugs contribute money to rebel arms purchases. But they admit there is no legal way of proving it.
Chaos breeds profits
The rise of organized crime syndicates flourished following the collapse of the communist system and frontier controls throughout most of the Balkan peninsula, resulting in lawlessness and civil conflict. The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together.
In many areas they work with the complicity of police and customs officials. The U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2001 notes that “instances of corruption and involvement of police in trafficking in persons occurred on the local level. At least two law enforcement officials have been dismissed for accepting bribes from traffickers.”
Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials.
Corrupt judges and prosecutors also frequently help arrested criminals.
On April 18, the Albanian state security service acknowledged the problem, saying in a statement that a “dangerous aspect of the growing power of the criminal groups is their ability to establish links with individuals in the top state administration offices and with politicians.”
Adding up the profits
No matter how much money the sex trade generates for traffickers, their big-ticket item continues to be drugs, police say.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 kilos of heroin are smuggled from Afghanistan to Western Europe every month, largely through the Balkans.
With a kilo of heroin worth between $50,000 and $200,000 on the street, the European traffic generates a market worth $7 billion a year, making it easily the biggest regional industry in the Balkans.
In February, Thomas Koeppel of the Swiss national police said, “Albanians account for 90 percent of our problems with drugs.”
Law enforcement authorities in the Balkans openly concede that ill-equipped and underpaid police and border guards can be easily persuaded with bribes to help traffickers.
And police are no match for the smugglers’ methods of evasion. For example, they throw away cell phones after one call to avoid electronic detection and transport their contraband in the latest speedboats.
Gjoni, the former Albanian interior minister, says that in contrast, rank-and-file police “need such basic things as flashlights, walkie-talkies, handcuffs. For now, we are likely to rely on tips from villagers.”
Regional initiative
At the regional level, things look more promising. The countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia have joined to create the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, or SECI, an American-inspired and assisted operation that began a coordinated war on trafficking in January 2001.
The group, whose headquarters are in Bucharest, Romania, it is beginning to get results. It says one initiative involving Italian, Moldovan and Romanian police led to the arrest of a dangerous mob leader, and another involving Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian authorities ended in the dismantling of a network that had trafficked 1,000 sex slaves.
Although both mobsters and police believe illegal traffic in people and goods is increasing, SECI law enforcement officials say their group is up to the challenge.
“It has traction,” says John F. Markey, the U.S. Customs Service special agent who coordinates SECI efforts at the U.S. State Department.
David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region. Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071971/
________________________________________
© 2006 MSNBC.com

MSNBC.com


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sex, drugs and guns in the Balkans
Ethnic Albanian rebels benefit from sex slavery
By David Binder and Preston Mendenhall
MSNBC
TIRANA, Albania - Organized crime syndicates in the Balkans, spawned when communism collapsed a decade ago, are thriving on illegal trade in drugs and sex slaves. The final destination for much of the goods and services is Western Europe. The trade, which yields billions of dollars each year, doesn’t just pay for the mansions and yachts of wealthy traffickers. It also has a political purpose — supporting the purchase of arms for Albanian rebels.

Nearly two years after NATO troops drove Serb forces from this region, rebels are believed to still be skimming profits from drug and sex slave trafficking to fund illegal arms purchases for ethnic Albanian rebel movements.

This trafficking has allowed both the Kosovo Liberation Army in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and the National Liberation Army in Macedonia to be outfitted with the latest in rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and night-vision goggles.

A look at European police blotters provides evidence of the close links between the rebels and Balkans trafficking. Two recent examples:

In 1999, a court in Brindisi, Italy, convicted an Albanian drug trafficker who also admitted obtaining weapons for the Kosovo Liberation Army.

In the first week of March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported a reversal of the main heroin trafficking route across Albania — into neighboring Kosovo rather than from Kosovo. Later, two Albanians were caught in Kukes with 20 kilos of heroin bound for Kosovo, and then on to Serbia and northern Europe.

Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Macedonian rebel group, conceded in an interview with MSNBC.com that some of the rebels’ funding might come from narcotics trafficking and a flourishing sex slave trade in the region.

But Ahmeti, whom the Macedonian government has arrested on drug charges in the past, maintained that the volume of donations to the rebel movement made it impossible to check their source.

“We try to vet all the money,” Ahmeti said in an interview high in his mountain headquarters in Sipkovica in northwestern Macedonia.

But even Ahmeti admitted he counts rich Balkans smugglers among his supporters. “We’re not so fanatic to say that such money could not reach us,” Ahmeti told MSNBC.com.

Guns for sex
As hard as it is to link sex slavery with illegal arms purchases, it’s arguable that the region’s sex slave trade has made crime syndicates rich. Of the nearly 1 million women trafficked as sex slaves worldwide each year, an estimated 200,000 pass through the Balkans, making their transfer through the war-torn region one of the area’s most lucrative businesses. Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia are filled with tiny brothels, where women, mostly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are forced to work as prostitutes under threat of death.

Ilir Gjoni, a former Albanian interior minister, and numerous other officials in the region said they are certain that Albanians who traffic in women and drugs contribute money to rebel arms purchases. But they admit there is no legal way of proving it.

Chaos breeds profits
The rise of organized crime syndicates flourished following the collapse of the communist system and frontier controls throughout most of the Balkan peninsula, resulting in lawlessness and civil conflict. The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together.

In many areas they work with the complicity of police and customs officials. The U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2001 notes that “instances of corruption and involvement of police in trafficking in persons occurred on the local level. At least two law enforcement officials have been dismissed for accepting bribes from traffickers.”

Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials.

Corrupt judges and prosecutors also frequently help arrested criminals.

On April 18, the Albanian state security service acknowledged the problem, saying in a statement that a “dangerous aspect of the growing power of the criminal groups is their ability to establish links with individuals in the top state administration offices and with politicians.”

Adding up the profits
No matter how much money the sex trade generates for traffickers, their big-ticket item continues to be drugs, police say.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 kilos of heroin are smuggled from Afghanistan to Western Europe every month, largely through the Balkans.

With a kilo of heroin worth between $50,000 and $200,000 on the street, the European traffic generates a market worth $7 billion a year, making it easily the biggest regional industry in the Balkans.

In February, Thomas Koeppel of the Swiss national police said, “Albanians account for 90 percent of our problems with drugs.”

Law enforcement authorities in the Balkans openly concede that ill-equipped and underpaid police and border guards can be easily persuaded with bribes to help traffickers.

And police are no match for the smugglers’ methods of evasion. For example, they throw away cell phones after one call to avoid electronic detection and transport their contraband in the latest speedboats.

Gjoni, the former Albanian interior minister, says that in contrast, rank-and-file police “need such basic things as flashlights, walkie-talkies, handcuffs. For now, we are likely to rely on tips from villagers.”

Regional initiative
At the regional level, things look more promising. The countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia have joined to create the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, or SECI, an American-inspired and assisted operation that began a coordinated war on trafficking in January 2001.

The group, whose headquarters are in Bucharest, Romania, it is beginning to get results. It says one initiative involving Italian, Moldovan and Romanian police led to the arrest of a dangerous mob leader, and another involving Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian authorities ended in the dismantling of a network that had trafficked 1,000 sex slaves.

Although both mobsters and police believe illegal traffic in people and goods is increasing, SECI law enforcement officials say their group is up to the challenge.

“It has traction,” says John F. Markey, the U.S. Customs Service special agent who coordinates SECI efforts at the U.S. State Department.

David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region. Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor.

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071971/


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© 2006 MSNBC.com

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

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#1 [url]

Dec 28 06 2:19 PM



Comments from a Film Student in Sofia who was a cam model for .. on the size and scope of her industry in Bulgaria and the dangers posed to oridinary women in the streets from pimps and recruiters for the sex industry.

It's "not very big industry , there is studio in Bourgas, may be the girls and
boys are no more than 100 in all country ,and all studios are legal,
they pay to models by bank acc and debit cards, we have medical
insurances. There is another type of video chat without undressing and
live porn show.
Even thought the porn film industry is illegal here, there
are underground productions and foreigners doing it too. The law for that is
incomplete still, but we have two porn festivals already, the things
are just in their beginnings . There is one girl from our studio who is acting
in porn movie. But most of the girls work in video chat because it is safe,
anonymous and they don`t see or have any contacts with the customers,
They just act and sell illusions, for easy money. So it's very seldom that will anyone agree to see a live customer or to make a porn movie.

I don`t like Live JASMIN website because the site is visible from within Bulgaria and the shows can be used by the site as many times as they want.

And then I asked; " But how much to these various forms of sex
work overlap in Sofia in your opinion?"

And she responded: "Oh in many ways, here we have everything. But the most horrible is kidnapping of girls and selling them as hookers outside the country. There are agents for escorts, and waiting for girls in the street, for phone sex, massage studios. But the video chat is as I said more safe and under the legal limit of being part of the porn industry. The Sex industry here is still an illegal, amateur and underground thing, we don`t have laws that legalize sex services, and that`s why many girls disappear forever."

UL

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

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#2 [url]

Dec 28 06 2:31 PM


Reuters.
Sex slavery plagues Romania and Bulgaria
Wednesday December 27, 2006 02:24 PM


BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Anca thought girls who spoke on television about being sold into sex slavery were paid to invent such stories to boost tv show ratings.
That was until she answered a friend's invitation to join her in Germany and work as a dishwasher in a town near Hamburg.
When she arrived, her passport was taken away and her captors forced her to work as a prostitute for their clients. Three months later she slid down two floors on a drainpipe, ran several kilometres (miles) through a forest and finally found a taxi that took her to a police station and safety.
"The girl who invited me won her freedom by bringing in two other girls," said Anca, a quiet 20-year-old from a Romanian village. She asked for her real name to be withheld to protect her from her captors.
As they prepare to join the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria are struggling to contain human trafficking and smuggling, particularly in drugs, which is endemic in the Black Sea region that will soon become the EU's eastern border.
Every year, thousands of women such as Anca, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well paying jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.
Observers say even more women could be at risk after the two countries join the EU in January and traffickers seek to increase business by taking advantage of easier access to western Europe, where most of the victims end up.
"There is a lot of exploitation in Romania and I am sure the numbers will get bigger," said Gina-Maria Stoian, Anca's case manager and the director of The Adpare Foundation, a Romanian organisation that helps victims of human trafficking.
"Already there is sex tourism around the Black Sea."
CRIMINAL ROUTES
Romania and its southern neighbour Bulgaria are among 11 countries listed by the United Nations as top sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims.
Other countries in the region, the poorest in Europe, are also hotbeds for organised crime and illegal trade such as Moldova and Ukraine.
Poverty, disillusionment with the region's slow reforms after the collapse of communism, and a fraying fabric of society following decades of forced repatriation of many communities help gangs flourish and find easy victims.
"There is poverty, dysfunctional families, mentality. The girls have no roots, no self-esteem," said Iana Matei, who runs Reaching Out, a Romanian charity that helps trafficking victims.
"The traffickers now look for 13 to 14 year olds. They are easier to control. They are trained and brain-washed here. They see they can get little help from police, the system. And they think they can make money and become independent," she said.
Geography is also a problem. Bulgaria and Romania are part of the "Balkan route" for transporting heroin from Afghanistan -- which produces the vast majority of the world supply of poppies -- to Western Europe. Eighty percent of Afghani heroin reaches Western users through this route.
"Romania will be the final border, the final frontier of the EU," said Cristian Duta from Bucharest's SECI Centre, which supports trans-border crime fighting in southeastern Europe. "It will be the first step for anyone who wants to get into the EU."
FIGHTING ABUSE
Some observers worry that Romania and Bulgaria's membership of the EU could aid the spillover of illicit trade that plagues the Black Sea region into the west.
Bucharest and Sofia governments say they are doing all they can to combat trafficking and abuse. Romania has won praise from Brussels for reforming border controls, combating endemic corruption and improving police cooperation.
But the EU has been more cautious on Bulgaria, rapping Sofia for not doing enough to fight rampant organised crime.
"Our borders are a 100 percent secure," said Dumitru Licsandru, who runs Bucharest's state agency against human trafficking.
The agency's data shows about 1,400 Romanian victims of trafficking, including sexual exploitation and forced labour, were identified in the first nine months of this year, while some 200 perpetrators were arrested.
Sofia's interior ministry's organised crime unit said 4,000-5,000 Bulgarian women are trafficked a year.
"We cannot deny the fact the problem of trafficking exists," said interior ministry spokeswoman Katya Ilieva, adding that the numbers had dropped compared to previous years.
Observers say official figures on the numbers of people trafficked show only the tip of the iceberg.
Aid workers say police work is not enough. Governments need to train judges and prosecutors, better protect victims and fight corruption which still allows traffickers to take women through borders or keep underage girls on the streets.
They also need to change the mentality in the traditional Balkan societies which often blame victims for their plight.
"My girls all knew about trafficking. But they thought it only happened to whores," said Matei, whose charity assists girls caught up in prostitution rings.
(Additional reporting by Kremena Miteva in Sofia)

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

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#3 [url]

Feb 10 07 12:37 AM

[QUOTE]Reuters.
Sex slavery plagues Romania and Bulgaria
Wednesday December 27, 2006 02:24 PM

Anca is right...this is only propaganda for rating nothing more

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#4 [url]

Feb 10 07 12:18 PM


Denial comes in many forms....Anaca's and maybe yours, Belea..
What then are we to do with this comment by a Romanian Cam-model made to me just yesterday about the way models were "disciplined" in some of the Video chat studios in her country?

"This industry can be dangerous to young models. There is physical violence involved in some studios that I know. All models should be warned and efforts made to pull them away from the industry before they find themselves in too deep."

She didn't say it for "ratings" or to gain celebrity... Like most cam-models I know "she doesn't want to become famous for doing this..."
Or given what she had to say, for being known for having said it either. In short, she was afraid for herself as well as for others.

UL

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

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#5 [url]

Feb 10 07 12:40 PM

Uncle please....

I told u before, i don't know exactly about the situation in other countries, but at least here in Romania I know for sure how things are. And besides as an American the girls talk differently to u, always expecting some help by way of compensation...

So maybe there are few girls that are in some ways abused but slightly and not in a brutal way. Did u know that if u as a studio manager argue with the models about their mistakes they will immediately complain to all that they are 'abused'...I'm sick of the romanian lying models.If they hear that in some other studio they pay more ,again they are abused. If they hear that if u work from home they get more money, again they are abused. If they are late on their period ,again they are abused by the studio LOL...I mean come on, be objective about a nation that lies for a living ,please

Mine is not just an opinion. It's a strongly based statement.

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#6 [url]

Apr 11 07 7:06 PM

Human trafficking big commodity in Moldova, Christians respond


Moldova (MNN) -- Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is one of the poorest nations in Europe. With its moderate climate and fertile farmland, Moldova's economy relies heavily on agriculture. But Moldova is also known for something else internationally -- human trafficking.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Moldova is considered one of the primary countries of origin for human trafficking for the rest of Europe. Additional reports revealed that Moldovan children are being trafficked to Russia for begging gangs and to Ukraine for working on farms.

The promise of employment and money entices many young women from rural areas to accept transportation to so-called jobs abroad. Once there, however, their passports are confiscated, and they are forced into prostitution.

But the light of Christ shines in these dark corners of Moldova. Young Next Generation Christian leaders at Russian Ministries' outreach center in the capital city of Chisinau (Kishinev) tackle these thorny issues head-on.

The ministry to women caught in the snare of human trafficking began on a small scale for these national workers. But with encouragement and help from ministry partners in the West, the ministry began to take off. "After attending a conference in Wisconsin in 2006," recalls one of the team leaders, "we knew we had to continue our ministry. Once we returned home, we got in touch with 22 women whose 'owner' had been caught by the police. These women put us in contact with other victims of human trafficking."

The two main goals of this ministry are prevention, especially among young people who are at-risk for human trafficking, and rehabilitation of those who are involved in trafficking.

These young Christian leaders from Moldova are convinced that prevention best begins with the next generation of children and young people. With one in nine children in Moldova--about 100,000 children--growing up in incomplete families, Russian Ministries' national workers observe that no one is there to "teach them about the value of their lives, about moral standards, or even about life skills."

Russian Ministries' team of Next Generation Christians, cooperating with public school officials, are in the high schools full-time, teaching Christian ethics, the dangers of drugs and HIV/AIDS, as well as issues related to human trafficking. Throughout the year, 8,000-10,000 teenagers are being exposed to biblical values, and more significantly, building relationships with young Christian leaders.

Then there are daycare centers for children who live in dysfunctional families. In partnership with Youth for Christ, there are 40 daycare centers run by churches in Moldova. Plans are underway for a similar daycare ministry in Russia.

The ministry of rehabilitation for women involved in prostitution and human trafficking is long and hard. Many women want to change but often fall victim to their old lifestyles. Lena had been a prostitute in Chisinau, but after a botched abortion, she wanted a new life.

At the end of 2006, more than 100 people participated in a conference on human trafficking in Moldova. This was the first time evangelicals gathered to discuss the issue of human trafficking and how the church should respond.

God is at work. Pray that this team of young Christian leaders from Moldova will not lose heart as they press on for the sake of the kingdom of God.


Story originated from this website,click here.

Money is like manure; it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow. Thornton Wilder


You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

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