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Kosovo 2012 Crime and Safety Report

Europe > Kosovo > Pristina

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

High unemployment and other economic factors encourage criminal activity in Kosovo. Kosovo is rated as HIGH for residential and non-residential crime. Street crimes consisting of theft and purse snatchings are serious problems in Kosovo, especially in Pristina. Criminals often commit crimes while armed with handguns, as weapons are fairly easy to obtain. Foreigners can be targets of crime, as criminals assume they carry cash. Likewise, foreigners’ homes, businesses, and vehicles can be targeted for burglaries. There have been incidences of individuals’ houses being robbed while they were away on vacation. 

While violent crimes do occur, reporting on Americans as victims of violent crime is very limited. In the past year, a handful of Americans reported being assaulted. Most of these events occurred in bars in downtown Pristina or were related to alcohol consumption. In all cases, these assaults stemmed from a personal issue between the victim and the assailant, not any overall feelings of anti-Americanism.

As elsewhere in Europe, pay special attention to your actions and your surroundings to avoid becoming a victim of pickpocketing. Carry a wallet in a front pocket, and put your hand in your pocket to hold onto it when in a crowd. Better yet, leave your unneeded wallet with your driver’s license and U.S. department store credit cards in the hotel safe. In any case, consider paring down the amount of cash and other items you carry to what you reasonably need. When walking with a purse or bag, ensuring it is closed and tucking it under your arm is probably sufficient. Do not leave your purse or bag over the back of your chair when you are at a restaurant. Watch to ensure that no one kicks your bag or purse out from under your table, and be particularly vigilant of where you place your belongings when at a sidewalk café.

Make a copy of your passport data page and carry the paper copy instead of your actual passport. Leave your passport secured in your hotel safe.

Major credit cards are generally accepted at hotels for your final bill, but it is inadvisable to use them for incidental purchases, as each use increases the chance of compromise. ATM fraud is increasing throughout Europe, and Kosovo is no exception. If you use an ATM, use one attached to a bank versus a free-standing ATM. Although Kosovo remains primarily a cash economy, do not carry large sums of cash.

Road Safety

Cross streets only in marked crosswalks, and given the option, use crosswalks that offer functioning Walk/Don’t Walk signals. Even if you have the right-of-way, be mindful of the poor observance of traffic safety practices by local drivers. Additionally, some crosswalk signals are not synchronized with the traffic lights; a green Walk signal does not guarantee it is safe to cross the street. Therefore, always check for traffic before you leave the curb.

Roads are typically in fairly good condition, but many are under a continual state of construction or repair. 

Driving is becoming increasingly risky in Kosovo. Defensive driving is a must. Attempt to limit your driving to daylight hours when you can see and be seen. While driving be aware of the various modes of transportation that you might encounter, including everything from horse-pulled carts to a local vehicle made from a converted agricultural tiller. Be particularly careful at night, as lighting along roadways is limited, and you can approach unlit vehicles quickly. Always wear your seatbelt!

Instead of driving, consider using a taxi. Taxis are an inexpensive, safe, and reliable means of transportation, but make sure your taxi has a meter and that the driver activates it upon departure. 

Political Violence

Historical Perspective

Americans are generally well received throughout the country, particularly in Kosovar Albanian communities. There is greater tension within the Serb-majority municipalities of Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, and in the northern half of the town of Mitrovica (in the municipality by the same name). Serbs in the area north of the Ibar River do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and residents are suspicious of U.S support for Kosovar efforts to establish legitimate government of Kosovo institutions within the region.

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

Organized crime activities, particularly in northern Kosovo, have included explosives thrown at the homes of rival groups and suspicious fires damaging rival businesses. A combination of long-standing ethnic tensions, weak economic conditions, the existence of organized crime groups, and the relative availability of military-grade weapons have led to sporadic acts of violence. On rare occasion, violence has also occurred in downtown Pristina. Violence and the threat of violence for the purpose of political intimidation has been isolated mostly to the region in and around north Mitrovica, as hard-line Serb nationalists have employed violence to prevent individuals from cooperating with the government of Kosovo. These instances of violence have not been directed at Americans.

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism

The international or transnational terrorist problem in Kosovo is similar to that faced by most European nations. The presence of U.S. military units within KFOR provides anti-American terrorists with potential targets. Kosovo does not have a visa regime, and Kosovo's border is porous. 

Civil Unrest

It is recommended that you avoid all demonstrations and public political gatherings. While most demonstrations are relatively peaceful, even peaceful demonstrations have the potential to become confrontational and may escalate to violence. Additionally, large, jostling crowds are an especially attractive target for pickpockets and a potential target for terrorists. Protests occur regularly in Pristina. The frequency of protests increases during times of political tension. These demonstrations are normally non-violent and take place in the downtown area near government or international organization buildings. Protests are more likely in ethnically divided areas or areas of ethnic tension, such as Mitrovica, which is divided by the Ibar River into ethnic Serb (north) and ethnic Albanian (south) halves.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Kosovo is susceptible to earthquakes. There are three principle seismic zones within Kosovo: Prizren-Peje, Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan, and Kopaonik. Within the available data range (from 1900 to present), the highest Richter Scale reading for the Prizren-Peje zone was 6.6 (in 2002), 9.0 (in 1922) for the Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan zone, and 6.0 (in 1980) for the Kopaonik zone. Between 1900 and 2000, historical records catalogued the following earthquakes by intensity: 82 earthquakes at greater than 5 intensity; 34 at greater than 6 intensity; 12 at greater than 7 intensity; 10 at greater than 8 intensity; and 3 at greater than 9 intensity. The most recent significant earthquake in Kosovo occurred in April 2002, centered in Prizren, with a strength of 6.6 on the Richter Scale; one person was killed, and at least 60 people were injured in Kosovo. The most recent earthquake occurred on March 10, 2010, with a strength of between 4.6 and 5.2, centered in Istog (60 km/37 miles northwest of Pristina), with no significant reports of damage. The Pristina municipality estimates that 70 percent of new private construction (primarily single-family homes and new apartment blocks) built since 1999 do not comply with established construction standards, and a major earthquake could devastate these buildings.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Kosovo Electricity Corporation (KEK) is a public utility with operations spanning coal mining, power production through coal (along with limited hydroelectric and power imports), and power distribution. KEK is the sole public supplier of electricity to consumers. It is the major heavy industry in Kosovo, employing nearly 8000 people, and its coal-fired power plants (KEK A and KEK B) are located near Pristina. These generating units were designed for a 30-year operating life and are now between 25 and 47 years old. Plans are to retire KEK A units by 2017 and KEK B units by 2024. In 2009, it was projected that KEK A and B together (after repairs planned but unfinished in 2010) would have been able to provide 960 MW of total operating capacity, but even if such repairs had been accomplished, the gains realized would still have been below the capacity needed to meet Kosovo’s peak demand (1 GW (2009 data)). If either KEK A or B were to fail, the other plant would be unable to meet the demand alone. A single plant would force KEK administrators to reduce power distribution until they could replace power generation capacity. If both KEK A and B were to fail (simultaneously or sequentially), KEK could still provide limited power generation through imports and small hydroelectric operations, but these would fall well short of existing demand and would force severe power distribution limits. The ability to collect revenue from consumers has long plagued KEK and other service providers. In December 2010, the Pristina central heating plant (providing hot water for radiant heat to much of the city), shut down due to its inability to collect payments. This led affected consumers to increase electric consumption via electric space heaters, further driving up demand. Kosovo and the international community continue to work toward a solution in which an outside consortium creates a new series of high-capacity electric plants, but until then, power demand will continue to outstrip supply.

Kosovo is working to improve its local transportation network, focusing on highways. Rail transportation continues to be very limited, but major changes are underway at Pristina International Airport. U.S. construction company Bechtel has partnered with Turkish company Enka to build a four-lane highway that will serve as a centerpiece of Kosovo's national transportation system. The Morine-Merdar Motorway will run from the border with Albania at Morine to north of Pristina. Plans call for the extension of the highway to the border with Serbia. While this new highway will facilitate movement of goods, the remaining road networks are limited. Pristina International Airport, the only commercial airport in Kosovo, was recently tendered by the government of Kosovo as a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) project, the first of its kind. The project requires the concessionaire, a Turkish-French consortium, to invest over 100 million Euro in infrastructure upgrades, including a new terminal facility and a new air traffic control tower. As with all PPP projects, the concessionaire keeps a portion of profits while turning over a pre-determined amount to the government.

Kidnappings

There have not been any kidnapping incidents involving internationals since independence of the country. There is an organized crime element in the country, and there was a higher incidence of kidnappings of females to supply the sex trade in other countries and allegations of organ trafficking. Since the arrival of various international monitoring and legal institutions, the latter has been virtually eliminated and the former hampered by increased local governmental focus to counter this activity.

Drugs and Narco-terrorism

Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kosovo are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The Kosovo police continue to make arrests of persons in possession of heavy amounts of marijuana (up to 85kg) and, rarely, heroin. Western experts consider Kosovo “primarily a transit country for Afghan drugs destined for Europe.” Major shipment seizures are probably indicative of organized crime activity, but there is no evidence of narco-terrorism.

Intellectual Property

Avoid vendors selling knock-off designer products and counterfeit DVDs; the U.S. government does not condone violations of Intellectual Property Rights agreements, and U.S. Customs will enforce these laws upon your return to the U.S.

Police Response  

The Kosovo police carry out normal police functions and are assisted by international officers. The judicial system is still developing under international oversight. In December 2008, the European Union Rule of Law mission (EULEX) assumed selected executive law enforcement and judicial functions within Kosovo's rule of law structures. EULEX provides monitoring, mentoring, and advice to local rule of law authorities and institutions. Additionally, EULEX police investigate and prosecute select complex and sensitive offenses such as corruption, select economic crimes, and organized crime.

The Kosovo Police (KP) is the primary law enforcement entity in Kosovo. The KP works closely with EULEX international police officers. In the event of a security incident that the KP could not manage, EULEX would serve as the second responder and military units of the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) as the third responder. As part of their routine duties, KFOR soldiers man border checkpoints and ports of entry, conduct border patrols, perform community policing function, and provide other security services, such as Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

Local Police Telephone Numbers

The local equivalents to the U.S.-standard “911” emergency line in Pristina are:

Alarm Center (the central emergency clearinghouse): 112

Police:  
From landline: 92
From cell phone (using Vala or Ipco service providers): 192

Fire Department:
From landline: 93
From cell phone (Vala): 193
From cell phone (Ipco): 933

Ambulance:
From landline: 94
From cell phone (Vala): 194
From cell phone (Ipco): 944

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

U.S. citizens detained by the KP should immediately contact U.S. Embassy Pristina’s Consular Section during normal business hours or the Embassy Duty Officer when the Embassy is closed. In addition, any incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment should be reported to U.S. Embassy Pristina.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime 

If an American becomes the victim of a crime in Kosovo, you should contact the KP and U.S. Embassy Pristina. A working knowledge of Albanian will be necessary when contacting any host emergency services.

Medical Emergencies

The following medical facilities offer 24-hour emergency medical treatment:

University Clinical Center: Tel: 038 500 600 ext 2341 or 3572.

Euromed Clinic: Tel. 038-534-072.

Rezonanca Clinic: Tel. 038 243 801, or 038 243 802.

International Medicine Hospital: For cardiac or vascular disease only, no 24 hour emergency room. Tel. +381-500-601.

Air Ambulance Services

(Note:  The companies listed below do not imply a commercial endorsement by the U.S. government or U.S. Embassy Pristina. These companies are generally accessed by an ongoing contract with a business or individual but may also assist a non-member.)

SOS International: Tel. +44 208 762 8008 (London), http://www.internationalsos.com/en/

Healix House, Ltd.: Tel. +44 (0) 20 8481 7720 (UK), http://www.healix.com/product/companies/47

Global Rescue Services: Tel. +1 617 459 4200 (US)

Tips on How to Aviod Becoming a Victim

As is the norm in any city, a little common sense goes a long way. As a general rule, people should be alert to their surroundings and keep control of all personal belongings, especially when in crowded public places such as public transportation areas and open markets. The relatively high unemployment level is a significant factor in crimes of opportunity. Therefore, make an effort to blend in with your surroundings.

The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that American citizens avoid large public gatherings, especially political rallies and demonstrations, due to the potential for violence.

Of note, there is a tradition of firing firearms into the air as an act of celebration. These incidents, termed “celebratory fire,” frequently occur in Kosovo during major holidays (particularly 31 December (for New Year’s Eve) and 17 February (for Kosovo Independence Day). In Pristina, celebratory fire has often occurred in the evening of major elections and after local soccer/football games (and outside of Pristina, weddings can also result in celebratory fire). Quite often, these incidents occur in conjunction with major fireworks displays. People have been injured (and, occasionally, killed) by falling bullets. During instances in which celebratory fire occur, you should consider staying indoors to avoid injury.

Areas to be Avoided

There are no restrictions of movement or curfews for Kosovo citizens or internationals in Kosovo. However, due to continued ethnic tensions and the potential for political violence, extreme care should be exercised in visiting the three northern municipalities of Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, and north Mitrovica. 

Further Information

U.S. Embassy Pristina
30 Nazim Hikmet Street (Dragodan area), Pristina, Kosovo
Operator:  (381) 38-5959-3000
Facsimile:  (381) 38-548-614 or (381) 38-549-890
Email address: consularpristina@state.gov
Website: http://pristina.usembassy.gov/

Duty Officer, U.S. Embassy Pristina: If you need immediate assistance after normal working hours because of the death, disappearance, or destitution of an American citizen, please call the U.S. Embassy Pristina operator at +381 38 5959-3000 and ask for the Duty Officer.

Consular Section, U.S. Embassy Pristina:
30 Nazim Hikmet Street (Dragodan area), Pristina, Kosovo
Telephone: +381-38-5959-3119
Email address: consularpristina@state.gov
Note: U.S. Embassy Pristina is staffed only to provide a limited range of consular services to American citizens or other residents of Kosovo. U.S. Embassy Skopje, Macedonia, is the Department of State designated venue for most consular services to citizens of Republic of Kosovo (visas, etc.).

OSAC Country Council

Kosovo has no active OSAC Country Council.