Wednesday, March 26, 2008

UN: Kosovo heart of Balkan drug route

NEW YORK -- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released a new report.

It warned that the axis between South American drug cartels and the Albanian mafia have reached "alarming proportions", while reports by several intelligence agencies show that Kosovo is a distribution center on the crossroads of global routes and pathways of drug trafficking.

This presents reason for concern, primarily because of the new pathways of drug trafficking, and "inclusion of cocaine in the range of products offered by the groups that are active along the Balkan drug route", the UNODC annual report for 2007 said.

The Albanian mafia has recently begun taking over the control of ports in Romania, in addition to the already solid network existing in Albania and Montenegro, the report said.

This warning by UNODC is the latest in a series of alarming reports by a number of agencies in charge of fighting organized crime, including the FBI, Interpol and Europol, which state that the Albanian mafia is the most serious criminal organization in Europe because it controls a huge part of the heroin trade in a number of European state - Switzerland, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, and, recently, in Great Britain.

The western European heroin market, of which 40 to 75 percent is controlled by Albanians, brings annual earnings of around USD 7bn, which makes the trafficking in this type of narcotic by far the most profitable activity in the Balkans, western intelligence services have reported.

The territory that includes Albania, Kosovo and western Macedonia is a huge drug warehouse. Its contents are drugs measured not in kilograms, but in tons, a western diplomat posted in the Balkans said in a statement for Tanjug new agency, explaining how intelligence sources estimate that there are at least seven tons of heroin in this region at all times, ready to be moved to the West.

Former official of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Michael Levine has said that one of the wings of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was "linked with every known narco-cartel in the Middle East and the Far East", and that almost every European intelligence service and police has files on "connections between ethnic Albanian rebels and drug trafficking".

"Albania and Kosovo are the heart of the Balkan drug trade route which links Pakistan and Afghanistan with Europe. That route is worth around USD 7bn annually and around 80 percent of the heroin intended for the western European market is smuggled along this route," said a report presented to the U.S. Congress.

International representatives in Kosovo complained in the recent years that it is "difficult to estimate, in the complicated relations on the political scene of the Kosovo Albanians and ethnic Albanians in Macedonia or southern Serbia, whether politics controls organized crime or the mafia controls politicians".

The agency says it its report that it is "also possible, however, that organized criminal groups in Kosovo in fact have no influence on the authorities because they are actually those who are in power, as Italian General Fabio Mini said on his departure from the post of commander of KFOR, the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo".

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