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Balkan Criminal Syndicates Are Focus of London Conference - 2002-11-25

European officials acknowledge that organized crime has infiltrated many European countries, but they say it has made the most inroads in southeastern Europe. Combating the problem was the focus of a special one-day international meeting in London.

The conference is the largest to date on organized crime in the Balkans, with delegations from all the Balkan countries as well as many other countries in Europe attending.

The aim of the gathering was to build political and popular support to fight the problem.

British Home Secretary David Blunkett told the conference, the Balkans have become the gateway to Europe for organized crime.

Criminal syndicates in the region do a multi-million-dollar business from a wide range of crimes: illegal immigration, people trafficking, prostitution, drug smuggling and the illegal weapons trade. And the effects of these crimes are felt far beyond the region.

British Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane chaired the conference. He told the delegates that firmly establishing the rule of law throughout the Balkans will not be easy, but it is absolutely essential if the area is to develop.

"The best way out of the region's problems would be economic growth, new investment to soak up unemployment, but there will not be any investment until people think the area is secure and stable," he said.

Mr. MacShane says right now, in parts of Kosovo for instance, law and order remain an elusive concept.

"If people spend all of their time attacking each other, actually at times using violence against each other, then there won't be any economic investment, there won't be that sense of law and crime will flourish," he said.

Along with more effective policing and stronger anti-corruption measures, the delegates agreed that cooperation among the countries of southeastern Europe is essential in the fight against crime.

The delegates were reminded that this tighter cooperation was particularly needed now because of the heightened threat of international terrorism.