PRISTINA, Kosovo -- The Albanian youths sit sprawled across a sofa in one of Pristina's many cafes. They appear half-asleep, their eyes ringed by dark circles. They are among the growing number of young people here who have joined Kosovo's fast growing drug culture.
A small bag of marijuana, the most popular drug in Kosovo, costs around ten German marks, or a little over $5. A well-organized distribution network is already established, with dozens of youthful dealers ready to supply hundreds of customers.
Ben says he's a dealer. He says he makes at least ten sales of marijuana or hashish a day. "Nine months ago, when I started to deal, I only had a few clients. Now I've got loads. Marijuana sells the best," he says.
Drugs enter Kosovo from either Albania and Macedonia. While much of the imported marijuana is for local consumption, the more expensive drugs, like cocaine and heroin, only pass through here on their way to Western Europe.
International narcotics experts believe the province's drug smugglers are handling up to five tons of heroin a month, more than twice the amount they were trafficking before the war.
"It's coming through easier and cheaper -- and there's much more of it," Marko Nicovic, vice-president of the International Enforcement Officers' Association, was recently quoted as saying in The Guardian newspaper. "If this goes on, we are predicting a heroin boom in Western Europe on the same scale as the one in the early 80s."
During the war in Kosovo, Albanian drug traffickers abandoned the well-established smuggling route that brought drugs from Afghanistan via Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo to Western Europe. But the end of the fighting, and the absence of robust law enforcement agencies in Kosovo, saw a return of the drug traffic.
In addition, southern Albania is a major cannabis growing area, offering the impoverished local community there a much needed source of income. Once harvested, the marijuana is shipped to the northeastern Albanian town of Kukes and then onto Prizren in Kosovo. The porous border between Kosovo and Albania allows traffickers to ship drugs without much fear of capture.
The KFOR forces that patrol the Kosovo-Albanian border have had some impact on traffickers, forcing them to find alternative routes along that frontier. One Kosovar dealer concedes he now uses secondary roads and is shipping smaller amounts of drugs than before.
But for now, it appears that drug dealers in Kosovo have little to fear from the authorities. A source with the United Nations police forces here concedes that no one is currently being held on drug-related charges. While the police are "carefully following the situation," he said, "we have more important matters to deal with."
Imer Mushkollaj is editor of the Kosovo Albanian newspaper
Epoka e re and writes for the Institute
for War & Peace Reporting, a London-based independent