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Yugoslav Women "Sold Like Sacks Of Potatoes"

by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

Human Trafficking a $7 Billion Global Business
(IPS) BELGRADE -- After the wars that tore the former Yugoslav federation apart in the nineties, the area has become notorious now for trafficking of women who end up as sex slaves.

An estimated 700,000 women illegally pass through European borders every year, EU (European Union) security chief Javier Solana said at a recent conference on organized crime in southeast Europe.

More than 200,000 of these women cross the borders around Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, he said.

"The area has become the biggest crossroads for trafficking of young women, attracted by false promises of well paid jobs in the West," says Mara Radovanovic, head of Lara, an NGO (non-governmental organization) in the Bosnian town Bijeljina.

"They end up as prostitutes and sex slaves, sold like sacks of potatoes," she says. "The prices range from $500 to $1,500, and some are sold by their 'bosses' several times."

Reports by the EU, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and local NGOs say sex victims of sex trafficking are brought mostly from Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. After being exploited in the Balkans, they end up as sex slaves in EU countries.

"Human trafficking is the fastest growing transnational criminal activity," according to a UN report. "It is also the biggest violation of human rights in the world."

Ljiljana Raicevic who heads a 'Safe House for Women' told IPS that trafficking of women cannot happen "without the knowledge and tacit approval of top police and justice officials."

Raicevic came into the spotlight earlier this month after an account by a woman in her shelter led to the arrest of the Montenegrin deputy public prosecutor. The official from Montenegro, sister federation to Serbia within Yugoslavia, was arrested for involvement in trafficking of women.

Many women sold all over the Balkans end up in bars and nightclubs. A report from HRW in November said that 227 nightclubs had been opened in Bosnia since 1995, when the Dayton accords brought peace -- and international forces -- to the republic. Bosnia, with a population of 3.5 million, became home to more than 50,000 international peacekeeping troops and dozens of international aid organizations.

HRW says most of about 2,000 women who began work in these new bars were forced into prostitution. Their ages vary between 17 and 33, but there were also several girls as young as 13. In a crackdown on such exploitation, 124 bars and clubs were closed in July last year.

The situation in the UN-administered province of Kosovo, home to 35,000 international peacekeepers since 1999 is similar. The latest IOM report says more than 600 women working as prostitutes have been sent back to their home countries since 1999.

More than half of them are believed to have been victims of human trafficking. They worked in some of 266 night clubs that came up in the tiny province of 1.8 million people. The report says 59 per cent were aged between 18 and 24, while 13 per cent were aged between 14 and 17.

The IOM report says there are an average of nine brothels in each of 30 municipalities of Kosovo. The little town Urosevac has 74. Urosevac hosts Bondstill, the biggest U.S. military base in the Balkans.

The IOM report says an operator with 10 women in a brothel is able to earn more than $100,000 a month. "The main problem in the whole area is that there are no laws dealing with human trafficking," says Jelena Djordjevic from the NGO 'Astra'.

The laws in the region cover only illegal deprivation of liberty of one person by another. The crime is punishable with up to three years in prison, but local judges usually give light sentences.

"Yugoslavia has signed an agreement with the EU-sponsored Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe in order to fight organized crime in this area," assistant federal Interior Minister Brankica Grupkovic told journalists in Belgrade.

"Besides increased cooperation of police in prevention of human trafficking in the area, we will be obliged to introduce modern laws that provide up to eight years imprisonment for human trafficking," she said. "Maybe this could be a good start that would lead to the solution to the problem."

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Albion Monitor March 5, 2003 (

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