The United States and Hungary have opened Eastern Europe's first international training facility designed to teach the region's police forces the latest techniques in using science to investigate crimes. The facility is part of U.S. efforts to combat organized crime and terrorism in former communist nations.
The new super weapons at the facility sponsored by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are microscopes, DNA-testing equipment and photo labs. They are all being thrown into the battle against organized crime and terrorism in former Soviet satellite states.
The FBI donated the nearly $300,000 worth of equipment to its International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, known as ILEA. It was set up nearly a decade ago to train Central and Eastern European police forces.
The U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, George Walker, said the Forensic Training Laboratory, which was constructed by the Hungarian government, would add to the knowledge of police officers from many countries, who study at ILEA. "This facility will not only serve to train Hungarians, but it will serve the 26 ILEA participant countries, Central and Eastern and South Eastern Europe, as well as Central Asia. Its scope is very broad," he said.
Speaking at the laboratory's dedication, Hungarian Interior Minister Monika Lamperth made clear she hopes the new facility will better equip police officers to deal with organized crime groups that try to misuse the new freedoms in former Communist states.
Ms. Lamperth suggested the collapse of the Soviet Union has brought new challenges to Eastern European governments and their police departments. Minister Lamperth said the political and social changes that have taken place during the past decade have resulted in a restructuring of organized crime. She said crime syndicates have become prominent in areas such as auto theft, prostitution and customs fraud.
In addition, U.S. officials have expressed concern about the smuggling of weapons and nuclear materials from Russia and other former Soviet republics through Central and Eastern Europe.
The region has also been used by terrorist organizations for training and money laundering. As a result, the FBI is also working on a regional anti-terrorism center due to open in Bulgaria later this year.
At Monday's ceremony in Budapest, FBI Executive Assistant Director Charles Prouty said he hopes the new facility will fill a void and enable law enforcement agencies to better track down criminals and prove their guilt. "It's the combination of two years of planning and hard work on the part of the Hungarian national police, the FBI and the governments of the United States and Hungary. But it is going to be worth the effort," he said. "This training facility will be the physical embodiment of the rule of law that we all aspire to, and our pride in our law enforcement agencies and our criminal justice system."
But behind the smiles and handshakes, there was some tension. Hungary is among many countries concerned about new U.S. visa requirements and entry procedures designed to fight terrorism.
Hungarian Interior Minister Lamperth told VOA she will discuss the issue during talks with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in Washington later this week.
Ms. Lamperth said that although she carries a diplomatic passport, she will undergo the controversial fingerprinting procedures when she arrives in Washington, in order to see for herself what Hungarians and people from many other countries now experience when entering the United States.