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msnbc.com

At the height of Slobodan Milosevic’s rule, Yugoslavia “became a kind of paradise for organized crime” and it remains a black hole for women forced into prostitution, a government official admits.

Lt. Col. Ivan Djordjevic, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, calls Yugoslavia, now Serbia and Montenegro, a “transit country” for most forms of organized crime, including human trafficking. But that may be wishful thinking.

In 2000, his ministry recorded 1,260 illegally “imported” women, but managed to free only five; it also arrested seven pimps.

In January, Serbian police arrested Alija Delimustafic, a big fish wanted on trafficking charges in neighboring Bosnia, and raided 441 locations where trafficking was suspected.

Police questioned 1,017 suspects, arrested 150 and confiscated firearms and drugs.

They also freed 10 girls ages 17 to 25 from Romania and Moldova who had been kept as sex slaves.

Enrico Penziani, a representative of the International Organization for Migration, a group that helps free captive women, has estimated that an average of 10 girls a month are illegally transported into or across Yugoslavia. He once confronted a trafficker driving a big Mercedes with his wife in tow in a bright red Ferrari.

In Yugoslavia’s internationally administered province of Kosovo, trafficked women from Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and other East European countries are found by police every month in the region’s 33 licensed bars. The International Organization for Migration has helped nearly 200 of them return home.

In one small Kosovo town alone, international authorities estimated five girls were trafficked in every week.

U.N. authorities charged 52 suspects with trafficking in 2001.

David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

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