CEOL - Kosovo patrols stepped up amid abduction fears

PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 17, 1999 -- (Reuters) British troops said on Thursday that they had stepped up patrols in the streets of Pristina to allay fears that teenagers are being abducted into prostitution.

"There is a fear that teenagers - both boys and girls-are being abducted off the streets," said Major Simon Plummer, of Britain's Royal Greenjackets regiment.

"What we are trying to do is quell this fear by increasing patrols on the streets," he told Reuters during a lightning visit to Pristina by British Defense Minister Minister Geoff Hoon.

Plummer said there were reports of up to 15 abductions in the last two weeks.

He said one of the biggest headaches was working in a legal vacuum in Kosovo, six months after the end of the NATO campaign.

"The difficulty is that there is no formal judicial system. People picked up with weapons end up being released within 24 hours," he said.

"They would have more confidence in us here if we could take these people off the streets."

Corporal Mark Moss, who has been leading one of 16 four-man teams that have been patrolling the streets of this ravaged town, said the problem was proving difficult to stop.

"There are alleged reports of an Albanian mafia coming across the border and abducting them (teenagers) into prostitution in Germany and Italy," he said.

"It's a definite problem. You will not see a single girl alone on the streets, they only go out in packs. Relatives take them to school. Guys you talk to say their girlfriends are staying in and won't come out."

The troops stressed they were trying to build up confidence and restore normality to a town that was ravaged before Serb troops withdrew at the end of the conflict six months ago.

"This is certainly the biggest problem we have been dealing with in the past couple of weeks," Moss said. "We have got to stop it."

International bodies have rebuffed criticism that in the six months since they took control of Kosovo they have failed to stamp out lawlessness that has led to more than 400 murders.

The violence includes both revenge attacks on Serbs for the past repression of Albanians - forcing many Serbs to flee the province - and simple crime, often with Albanians as the victims.

Bernard Kouchner, head of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration, has pledged to appoint 400 extra judges and prosecutors to kickstart a barely functioning justice system.

General Klaus Reinhardt, the German commander of the 50,000 NATO-led peacekeeping troops, said they would mount more joint patrols with Kosovo's international police force.

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