- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

Among the most important priorities of U.S. global policy is combating the international traffic in drugs and in persons (often a euphemism for women and children forced into prostitution).

Because of the linkage and overlap among terrorist networks and organized criminal gangs, the battle against trafficking is also an integral part of the war on terror.

Fighting organized criminal activities is difficult even in countries with a functioning legal system, honest police and the rule of law. Think how much harder that would be when dealing with an independent country where the authorities are an integral part of the criminal enterprise.

Amazingly, that’s what the international community seems to want to help establish in the Serbian province of Kosovo. When Kosovo was placed under United Nations administration and NATO military control at the end of the 1999 war, some hoped the province soon would meet at least minimum qualifications for some kind of independence, as demanded by Muslim Albanians who greatly outnumber the remaining Christian Serbs.

That hasn’t happened. Instead the drug, sex slave, weapons, money-laundering, and other illicit trades that helped fuel the conflicts of the 1990s have continued to grow. Just this month Marek Antoni Nowicki, Poland’s leading human-rights lawyer and the U.N.’s international ombudsman for Kosovo until last year, denounced the “real criminal state in power” in Kosovo, working right under the nose of the U.N. and NATO. “Crime groups have been able to operate with impunity,” said Mr. Nowicki. “These networks can rely on the weakness of the public institutions to sanction their operations.” Mr. Nowicki’s charges came on the heels of a March 2006 report by the U.N.’s internal watchdog agency, the Office of Internal Oversight, which found the head of U.N. Mission — who holds virtually dictatorial powers — derelict for ignoring fraud and other abuses at the airport in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

None of this should come as any surprise. Even in 1999, when the Clinton administration decided to take military action in support of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), there were numerous and credible intelligence and news reports of the KLA’s criminal and terrorist inclinations. Predictably, KLA veterans found even more opportunity to ply their illicit trades when, ostensibly demobilized, they were recruited by the UN into Kosovo’s police, civil administration, and quasi-military “Kosovo Protection Corps.” The foxes were asked to guard the chicken coop — another U.N. fiasco.

As described in reports issued by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, criminal activity in Kosovo continues to be closely tied to operations of the Albanian mafia across Europe, from home bases in Kosovo and adjacent areas of Albania and Macedonia. For example (from 2003): “According to the International Organization for Migration and EUROPOL, the principal supplier countries [i.e., for trafficked women] today are Moldova (up to 80 percent: many Moldovan villages do not have any more women), Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. The networks used various routes, including the route that passes through Kosovo, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (see the village of Veledze, the regional centre of prostitution) and Montenegro, then through Italy. The Albanian mafia has set up a real cartel on prostitution. It handles more than 65 percent of the trafficking in women in the Balkans.” From 2004: “In Kosovo, as many as 80 percent of internally trafficked victims are children.”

The response of international bureaucrats to this disgrace is predictable: ignore it and hope nobody notices. Or even better, pretend all is going well, declare the mission a success — and hand power over to the criminals as the new sovereign “government.”

If that happens, even the minimal interference in the Kosovo-based gangs’ operations will be removed. A criminal state not seen since the defunct Taliban regime in Afghanistan will be set up with easy proximity to the rest of Europe.

Such an outcome would make a mockery of some of the United States’ most important global security priorities. While the international community desires some sort of “closure” to the ongoing mess in Kosovo (and this is understandable), it is hard to think of a supposed solution worse than independence. Seven years after the 1999 war, this is one Clinton legacy that demands urgent reconsideration.

James “Ace” Lyons Jr. is a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy. He is a former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (the largest single military command in the world), senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and as deputy chief of Naval operations and was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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