Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Fear of crime is taking bizarre shape in Kosovo, with rampant rumours of gangs kidnapping babies to steal their body parts. The response of UN representative Bernard Kouchner to the problem might seem to some as no less eccentric.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Fear of crime is taking bizarre shape in Kosovo, with rampant rumours of gangs kidnapping babies to steal their body parts. The response of UN representative Bernard Kouchner to the problem might seem to some as no less eccentric.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

There are few things that better symbolise the fear of crime that grips Kosovo than the persistent rumour that a gang of kidnappers is on the streets of Pristina, stealing children and slicing open their bodies for spare-part organs.

The stories are as detailed as they are directly unattributed. Last weekend a child was reportedly snatched from outside the city museum, in broad daylight, by men speaking the telltale Albanian Tosk dialect that distinguishes a person from Albania proper from the Northern Gheg Albanian speaking Kosovars.

From this spins the tale of Albanian-Italian spare-part organ smugglers, of children disappearing for weeks on end, only to materialise back home with scars where their kidneys should be. The local media reported Saturday that two boys had been found dead at a city soccer stadium - their organs missing.

"I have an 11-year-old, and call it paranoia but I am afraid to let her go outside," says 35-year-old mother Afrim. The documented near-impossibility of kidney snatching anywhere, let alone in desperate Kosovo, makes no impact on fears like these.

The US agency for organ transplant control, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), is clear. "It's all but impossible for such a market to exist," they say. The shelf life of human organs is measured in hours: as little as four for a heart, 48 to 72 hours for a kidney and that with modern storage facilities.

"Organ removal, transporting, and transplantation procedures are so complex and delicate - requiring advance testing, minute timing, and the organised support of so many qualified personnel - that they simply could not be accomplished outside of a legitimate medical setting," says the UNOS.

The sad truth is that such fears exist only because Kosovars have been all but abandoned to the criminal element. "I have put steel bolts on my door and now I am looking to buy a gun," says Jatmir, 45. Like many others, Jatmir has lost confidence in both the internationals and the local political leadership.

"The internationals look out for themselves while the local political leaders don't have the means."

Two months ago the presence of NATO KFOR troops patrolling the town 24 hours a day gave one a sense of safety. But in the past month not have only the number of patrols decreased but the British Army squads that used to carry them out have been replaced with men from the very much less trusted Russian Army.

With the first snowflake's fall, coldness has gripped the heart of Kosovo's people; fear of crime and lack of security. Even the internationals are feeling nervous.

In the centre of Pristina sits the Spaghetteria Toni restaurant, once a famous hangout for expatriates. Tonight, at what should be a peak time, 6:00pm, it is already deserted. "It can't be because of the service," jokes one waiter.

"A few weeks ago at this time this place would have been packed," said another. "Now everyone, locals and internationals, either don't come out after sundown or if they do, they don't stay past 9:30pm."

The locals have come to understand that KFOR is not a police force and the Kosovo police force in the making - the UN/OSCE trained civilian force known by its Albanian acronym TMK - is too small to tackle the problem.

The UN and OSCE are trying. Last week an intensive nine-week training course for a second group of 175 local police officers, guided by 130 foreign police instructors from 13 countries and local legal specialists, began at the new Kosovo Police Service School in Vucitm.

The OSCE is expected to train approximately 3,500 locally recruited police in 18 months, from all ethnic groups, while this month UNMIK took over its first prison, in Prizren, what the UN call "the final link" in an emergency judiciary system supposed to bring some law and order to Kosovo.

They are not succeeding. A report by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, based in New York, concludes that "police efforts have been far from successful" and that Kosovo suffers from "unchecked criminality".

The UN has around 1,800 civilian police from 40 countries in Kosovo, more than a quarter from the US. But this is fewer than half the 4,800 officers the UN has authorised and most of those here are even less well equipped than the locals for streets that UN spokesman Fred Eckhard says are "similar to some of the toughest urban areas in the world".

Little wonder the officers have focused instead on safer duties like car registration and licensing. With murder and armed robbery unnaturally common, UN civilian chief Bernard Kouchner has raised eyebrows with his fascination with the latter.

Last week he even called in the world media to watch him pin a first ever Kosovo licence plate on a car. "This is the most visible sign of law and order in Kosovo," Kouchner said in a press statement. "With the return of regular license plates it will be safer on the roads of Kosovo."

Few Kosovars think licence plates will do the job. "There is no governing structure," says Adem Demaci, former political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army. "There is no governing structure. Kouchner and UNMIK have failed to establish the necessary structures for law and order."

Without this proper governing structure, many locals fear that Kosovo will descend into the lawlessness that swept neighboring Albania in 1997. However Demaci is more optimistic.

"Although the situation is bad and probably will get worse if the internationals do not take a more practical approach to the this issues, Kosova will not descend to the levels of Albania because of the large presence of foreigners."

But Demaci notes that locals can't sit idle and think that the internationals will solve all their problems. "The locals," he says, "have to take their hands out of their pockets and take a pro-active approach."

However, should his licence plates and his policemen fail Kouchner has a fallback strategy. As he said in a recent interview for the Pristina daily Koha Ditore, "what Kosova needs is more love".

Albania, Kosovo
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