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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 15:07 GMT
'Slave trade' thrives in Bosnia
Unemployment cue in rural Romania
High unemployment makes women easy prey
By Michael Voss in Bosnia

Bosnia has become the centre of a modern day version of the slave trade.

The authorities believe that many of the warlords and paramilitaries responsible for the bloodshed of the Balkan wars have now turned their attention to organised crime and trafficking.

Young women are lured from the poorest regions of Europe with promises of work in the West, then sold like cattle and forced into prostitution.

They order the girls to take off all their clothes to be chosen like cattle

Mara Radovanovic, women's group member
International police forces are trying to stop the trade, but most traffickers escape unpunished.

Many young women change hands in secretive deals at a market in rural Bosnia near the borders with Serbia and Croatia.

Arizona market is one of the biggest black markets in Europe.

Operating from row upon row of wooden huts, traders sell everything from carpets to washing machines and bootleg CDs to counterfeit designer-label clothes.

Mara Radovanovic works with a local women's group helping victims of the trafficking.

"When traders come they order the girls to take off all their clothes and they are standing in the road naked: They are exposed to be chosen just like cattle".

Victimless crime?

From Arizona market the women are sold to the night clubs and brothels which have sprung up all over Bosnia.

Their customers are a mix of locals and foreign soldiers serving with the Nato-led peacekeeping force.

They have been held in virtual slavery, beaten, raped and then ... become prostitutes

Douglas Coffman, UN spokesman Bosnia
Douglas Coffman, the United Nations spokesman in Bosnia, says that too many people here believe that going to brothels and supporting prostitution is really a victimless crime.

"They think that the girls are willing and want to make money because of the tough circumstances back home," he says.

"The fact is many of these women are victims of human trafficking.

"They have been dragged across state borders, they have been held in virtual slavery, beaten, raped and then, at the end of that process, become prostitutes."

Police impotent

The local police are underpaid, overstretched and no match for the organised crime gangs running the business.

There is a UN police force in Bosnia but its role limited to supporting the local police.

Detective Sergeant Maxwell Woodford, the senior UN officer dealing with trafficking, says that the brothel owners are often tipped off in advance of police raids.

He says that on several occasions that the police have gone to a bar and they've found it locked and in darkness on a Saturday night, and it is clear that somehow the bar owner has been warned.

I joined Detective Woodford on a raid on a brothel outside Sarajevo where, for once, the owner had not been forewarned.

Two of the young women there claimed they were tricked into coming to Bosnia.

One of them, a 19-year-old from Moldova, says none of the eight girls working there has ever been paid.

She is now in a safe house in Sarajevo run by the International Office of Migration.

In the past year the IOM has helped some 250 trafficked women to return home.

The majority came from the poorest parts of Europe - Moldova, Romania and Ukraine - but the main supply route is through Serbia.

With no shortage of young women desperate to improve their lives and no sanctions on the unscrupulous gangs that exploit them, this modern day slave trade will continue to thrive.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Europe
Asylum call for sex slaves
03 Mar 01 | Europe
Vice bars raided in Bosnia
09 Feb 01 | Europe
EU tackles sex trade
19 Jun 00 | Europe
Trafficking: A human tragedy
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