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UN Looks for Cooperation on Transnational Crime and Terrorism

Increased international cooperation in the fight against international crime and terrorism are key themes at a United Nations congress on crime and justice now meeting in Thailand. Major challenges remain in implementing agreements, including finding an acceptable definition of terrorism.

In a statement to the congress this week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan described organized crime as a leading threat to international peace and security in the 21st century.

Mr. Annan's statement urged the global community to ratify and implement U.N. conventions against transnational organized crime and corruption, plus a dozen counter-terrorism instruments.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, says cooperation is essential to meet the challenge of transnational crime.

"Greater market openings, better communication, improvement in transportation, have all rendered our economies stronger, but also the behavior of organized crime," he said. "Therefore we need international measures and judicial system cooperation so as to address the internationalization of crime."

One report to the congress said that while progress had been made in dealing with international crime, developing countries appeared more vulnerable to such acts as corruption and trafficking in human beings.

About 100 countries have ratified the U.N. convention on crime, but only a few have ratified another aimed at corruption.

Dimitri Vlassis, a U.N. coordinator, described the document as "groundbreaking" for countries hoping to recover state funds embezzled by leaders.

"The entire chapter on asset recovery is designed to deal with the major problem of large amounts of money being looted and transferred abroad by corrupt leaders - how to ensure countries can trace, can recover these resources and use them to shore up their economies," he said.

International terrorism is also on the agenda, from a Muslim separatist conflict raging in the host country, Thailand, to suicide bombings by insurgents hoping to derail the democratization of Iraq.

Mr. Costa says implementation of a convention on terrorism is hampered by a failure to agree on a definition of the term.

"We would like the Congress to impart a new momentum in realizing an intrinsic need to agree on a definition of terrorism so that the first United Nations comprehensive convention against terrorism can be agreed upon," he said.

The U.N. congress, held every five years, has brought more than 3,000 delegates to the Thai capital. Delegates are also due to discuss international computer crime, money laundering, prostitution, and prison reform.