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Romania: Canadian Railways Hit By Train Robbers

Ottawa, 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Robbing trains is often thought to have been a relic of the wild-west frontier days of North America, but Canadian officials have been dealing with a train-robbing gang from the east -- Romania.

Canadian railway and provincial police say they are making progress in solving a string of nearly two dozen train robberies over the last six months with the arrest of four Romanian immigrants. The four have been convicted and sentenced to jail, but as a result of their criminal convictions, they now face possible deportation.

Special police agents for Canadian National Railway believe an organized Romanian group is responsible for robbing freight trains from the Atlantic coast port of Halifax, Nova Scotia through the provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario since the beginning of the year.

Detective Sergeant Blake Jones of the Railway police says the bandits usually break into container cars that are stopped in railway yards for loading or refueling. Then, they wait until the train starts moving again and start throwing items off the train to other gang members traveling in trucks. Sometimes, he says, they simply toss goods into ditches beside the rails to be picked up later.

Louise Filion, a spokesman for the Canadian Railway, says that in recent months, authorities had noticed some containers coming from Halifax and heading to Montreal had been forced open and merchandise was missing. .

Jones says that two of the Romanians arrested so far were caught in February, just outside Ottawa, after they had tossed about $18,000 worth of cigarettes from a train after they broke into a container.

In May, another Romanian was arrested in the Atlantic maritime province of New Brunswick after he broke into a freight train and threw about $25,000 worth of stereo equipment into a ditch when the train slowed for a crossing.

In the most recent case, also in New Brunswick, police caught a Romanian as he was unloading cargo from a freight container.

Jones says railway police are working with authorities in four provinces to try to break up the ring they have dubbed "the Romanian Nationals" which they believe is based in Montreal.