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UN: Balkan Instability Feeds Rise In Crime

  • Robert McMahon

Senior international law enforcement officials have expressed new concern about the rise in criminal activity in the Balkans, especially drug trafficking. A leading UN crime-fighting official says the global nature of trafficking highlights the need for universal jurisdiction, to allow authorities to prosecute it anywhere. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 23 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- International crime experts have noted with alarm the rise in many forms of organized crime in former Balkan war zones and are hoping cross-border cooperation can begin to combat it.

The surge in trafficking -- both in drugs and humans -- as well as prostitution and auto theft were among the crime areas cited by law enforcement authorities at separate events on Thursday.

A conference in Bucharest attended by officials from Europol, Interpol, and the Council of Europe drew attention to the Balkans as a source of international crime activity. Speakers said local law enforcement authorities feel powerless to combat international crimes such as drug trafficking.

The manager of Europol's projects on organized crime in Eastern Europe (Uwe Kranz) said Kosovar Albanians now dominate the heroin markets in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Norway, and Sweden.

Crime experts say the criminal groups have taken advantage of the fall of communist regimes and the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s to gain a strong position in the region. The head of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, suggests that the groups, linked with corrupt politicians, have also been able to intercept some of the international aid that has been pouring into the region in recent years.

Arlacchi told reporters at a press conference in New York on Thursday that it is no coincidence the major aid destinations of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania have become centers of organized crime.

"You are speaking about a small part of Europe that receives $1 billion in international aid every year. And this fact, in my opinion, is creating an additional very serious problem that would persist much beyond the end of, let's say, the political-diplomatic-ethnic problems of the area."

One possible way of combating this trend, says Arlacchi, is to allow international prosecution of crimes such as trafficking. He said at present, what is known as "universal jurisdiction" -- or prosecuting crimes internationally -- applies only to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Arlacchi said because of the global nature of drug crimes, it is difficult to trace cases into a precise jurisdiction. The concept of universal jurisdiction, he said, would be explored at a UN symposium in Palermo, Italy, at the end of this year. That symposium will mark the signing of an international convention on organized crime.

Arlacchi also expressed concern that use of the Internet is growing on the illegal drugs market, allowing criminals easily to share information on how to produce drugs and where to purchase them. He says universal jurisdiction should also apply to combating the proliferation of such information on the Internet.

"Unfortunately, this use is spreading, and we are now thinking about some instrument to adopt to at least stop the expansion of this unlawful flow of information."

At the conference in Bucharest this week, law enforcement officials are also seeking ways to effectively work across borders. The officials are planning to discuss ways to modify legislation in all Council of Europe states to fight trans-border crimes and create a European code of police ethics.

Meanwhile, Arlacchi says UN drug enforcement officials are making some progress on a regional plan to shut down the primary source of heroin production -- the poppy fields of Afghanistan.

Arlacchi says his office has a twofold strategy. One part is to create strong border controls around Afghanistan. The second is to work inside Afghanistan by providing direct help to farmers.

But the second part depends on the cooperation of the ruling Taliban regime, and Arlacchi says it has been slow to help. The Taliban, for its part, blames the UN for the failure to institute effective measures to replace the opium crop with other sustaining crops.

But Arlacchi says his office has seen an encouraging increase in cooperation from some of Afghanistan's neighbors and is working on a regional action plan.

"Now all countries that border Afghanistan are fully aware of the problem that arises from opium poppy cultivation in that country. They are experiencing dramatic increases in the addiction rate and now they are ready to fully cooperate with us."

Iran is one neighbor that has already expended considerable efforts to stem the drug trade from Afghanistan. It deploys tens of thousands of law enforcement officers at its border areas to fight drug smuggling. International drug control agencies credit Iran with huge seizures of heroin, morphine, and opium at its borders.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations says Iran will mark the international anti-drug day on Monday by destroying in Tehran about 23 tons of narcotics valued at $3 billion.