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Swiss join EU efforts to combat Balkan crime

Javier Solana, the European Union's general secretary, said in London every country in the Balkans is blighted by organised crime

(Keystone)

Switzerland has been taking part in a Europe-wide effort to counter organised crime from the Balkans.

An international conference in London looked at ways to combat multi-million dollar criminal activities originating in southeast Europe.

Experts see the Balkans as the main gateway to Europe for drug trafficking, people smuggling, money laundering and weapons smuggling.

The British foreign minister, Jack Straw, described organised crime as the "scourge" of southeast Europe, saying it "is one of the most serious threats to peace, stability, economic development and democracy in the Balkans".

The meeting heard that organised crime in the Balkans affects the whole of the Europe, too, a particular concern for the Swiss.

"Criminal organisations have no respect for national borders," said the head of Switzerland's Federal Police Office, Jean-Luc Vez. "All European nations are affected by this criminality to some extent or another."

Hotbed of crime

According to experts, the Balkans became a hotbed of criminal activity after civil society collapsed in the wake of the region's conflicts. Poorly guarded borders and corrupt officials have made the area a haven for crime lords.

Jean-Luc Vez told swissinfo that Europe had to come to the assistance of Balkan governments who are struggling to deal with organised crime wave.

"We have to contribute to establishing political and economical stability in the Balkans," he said. "This is the key to peace and an efficient fight against organised crime."

Vez said the "war" could not only be fought on Balkan territory, but had to be extended beyond southeast Europe.

"We will also have to fight it in the so-called transit countries," Vez told swissinfo. "We have to wage a war."

Trafficking

Swiss police say the biggest problem facing them is the import of illegal drugs from the Balkans and human trafficking by Balkan criminals.

"These two issues will constitute our main priority over the next years," said Vez. "But we won't forget to deal with the illegal arms trade and corruption."

Much of the criminal activity in Switzerland that originates in the Balkans concerns heroin smuggling, although there are no reliable estimates as to how much it is worth.

One reason is because Switzerland is used a transit country by criminals, which means many of the drugs never reach the country's streets and are simply sent to markets further afield.

"Much of the heroin trafficking takes place in eastern Switzerland," said Vez. "That area lies on the main route for heroin between southeast, northern and central Europe, so it is important to cut off this route."

"And it's important for us to show our European colleagues that we are doing our part to fight organised crime from the Balkans."

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin and Scott Capper


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