Kosovo police seized 2,109kg of marijuana headed for international markets.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 18/06/12
Drug paraphernalia was recently seized from suspected traffickers in Kosovo. [Reuters]
Southeast Europe will remain vulnerable to drug trafficking unless a regional co-operation strategy is put into place, analysts said. But poor implementation and legal strategy is a hurdle to stopping the illegal trade routes.
The Balkan route -- a heroin transit route that starts in Afghanistan, extends via Turkey, the Balkans, Italy and Austria, to Central and Western Europe -- is a key route for trafficking Asian opiates, according to the UN.
Precursor chemicals required for the production of heroin and synthetic drugs are also trafficked along the Balkan route.
Earlier this month, Kosovo police seized 2,109kg of marijuana in Podujevo, near Pristina, valued over 76,000 euros. According to police, the shipment was headed for a market outside of Kosovo. Three Kosovo citizens were arrested, and weapons and money were confiscated.
On June 1st, the US sanctioned Nasar Kelmendi, a Kosovo-born Bosnia citizen, under its Kingpin Act. The US accuses Kelmendi of leading one of the strongest ethnic Albanian criminal families in the Balkans, heading an organisation that traffics heroin and cocaine into Europe. The designation allows the US to freeze Kelmendi's assets under its jurisdiction.
Kelmendi's attorney, Mithat Koco, told Balkan Insight that the the allegations are "inflammatory claims" and said he will ask US authorities for evidence to prove the allegations.
According to the US State Department's 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Kosovo is primarily a transit country for drugs headed for Europe, and is not a significant narcotics producer.
"Liberalised visa regimes, porous borders, still insufficient results in the fight against money laundering, and in some countries, limited capacities of customs [personnel], contribute to the vulnerability to drug trafficking of the countries along the Balkan route," Sinisa Durkulic, analyst for the UN Drugs and Crime Office in Belgrade, told SETimes.
Betim Musliu, of the Kosovo Law Institute, said the main problem is the legal framework and the poor implementation of the strategy in the fight against narcotics.
"Kosovo has an outdated strategy, which did not improve the situation, or increase efficiency of Kosovo institutions in fighting and preventing crimes related to narcotics," he told SETimes.
Musliu also said that due to weak control of borders, Kosovo serves as a transit country for narcotics. "On a few occasions, the neighbouring countries confiscated narcotics which [were] transported through Kosovo. The Kosovo police and customs failed in their mission," he added.
He stressed that no country will succeed in fighting narcotics without regional co-operation. "No country in the region has initiated a comprehensive strategy involving all countries undertaking inclusive measures. Without such a strategy, it will be difficult to fight such negative and serious phenomenon."
In 2011, Serbia seized a total of 65kg of heroin, destined for local distribution and consumption.
"According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior, since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, there's been a shift in the heroin trafficking corridors on the Balkan route. From Bulgaria, the traffickers are said to prefer to go through Romania because of less rigorous border checks than going eastward, through Serbia. Also, Kosovo is one of the preferred corridors for heroin trafficking along the Balkan route," he said.
According to Durkulic, while Serbian nationals play a prominent role in international cocaine trafficking, the Balkan route is not important for transit of cocaine.
Profits gained from the international cocaine trafficking are laundered in various ways, sent to legal circulation in Serbia and other countries, mainly via real estate and building industry investments.
"Marijuana, which remains the most widespread illicit drug in Serbia, reaches Serbia mainly from Albania," Durkulic says.
According to INCSR, organised crime groups take advantage of Albania's strategic location, porous borders, and uneven law enforcement.
Aksion Plus, an Albanian NGO working on drug prevention, says there is an existing partnership between the state agencies and NGOs controlling supply and demand.
"Drug reduction strategies consider these components in order to have their activities compatible and co-ordinated with neighbouring countries and Europe," Genci Mucollari, the head of the NGO told SETimes.