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Europe: OSCE Forum Chairman Discusses Difficulties In Fighting Traffickers

Prague, 21 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe opened a three-day economic forum in Prague yesterday focusing on the fight against illegal trafficking of drugs, human beings, and weapons. RFE/RL spoke yesterday with the chairman of the OSCE forum, Dutch diplomat Daan Everts, about how trafficking can be combated on an international level when some governments protect individuals allegedly involved in the smuggling trade.

Question: A paper being presented by University of Pittsburgh Professor Phil Williams at this week's OSCE Economic Forum in Prague says it is a myth that governments give high priority to combating trafficking. In the area of weapons smuggling, for example, Professor Williams says "most governments are far more interested in promoting arms sales than in restricting arms trafficking." Critics say that the OSCE may paper over the issue this week because some OSCE-member governments allegedly are involved, either directly or indirectly, in arms deals that require illegal smuggling operations. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

Everts: Well, [we are] definitely not papering over. The whole idea of this meeting here [in Prague] is to bring more clarity to these illegal trade activities. It's not easy to trace often, and sure, there can be sometimes connivance by individuals who are also in government positions. That should, of course, not be condoned. And we would be the last ones to do so. The idea here is to bring all the governments, at least, on one line. And I think that basically we are -- at least in terms of public statements. The question now is to make sure that it sticks and that, indeed, the transparency is promoted that would help to rule out these illegal trafficking activities.

Question: Documents are being discovered in Iraq that link Russian and Belarusian interests to potential weapons deals with Iraq's Republican Guard during the past decade in violation of UN sanctions against Iraq. I myself, as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, have seen two such documents that were discovered in Baghdad and have since been passed on to the Pentagon. Is any of this emerging evidence from Iraq having any impact on the OSCE's agenda? Is it even on the agenda of this week's OSCE forum here in Prague.

Everts: [No.] It hasn't surfaced here yet. This is probably all too recent. But normally, this kind of information will find its way [to the OSCE]. And hopefully, with increasing attention on the trafficking issue and the interlinkages between the different forms of trafficking -- because often it is the same criminal networks behind it -- with getting the greater transparency achieved, we should be able to go after it and be able to call a spade a spade in places where it counts. And that could be The Hague. It could be Minsk. It could be Moscow. It could be any place. I would not, a priori, single any country out for harboring arms or other kinds of traffickers.

Question: There are allegations that many of the Afghan warlords who are part of the internationally supported Transitional Authority are deeply involved in the heroin smuggling trade. It is alleged, in fact, that Afghan warlords are using their own private militias to defend heroin smuggling export routes out of Afghanistan -- and using their profits from the heroin trade to support those private armies. How can the OSCE and the international community deal with the issue of heroin originating from Afghanistan when some of the world's biggest heroin traffickers allegedly are either a part of, or closely linked, to factions within the UN-mandated Afghan Transitional Authority?

Everts: Well, it is obviously difficult. Afghanistan is, strictly speaking, outside the OSCE area. So we don't have direct leverage. But drugs trafficking is not just a question of producing countries. It is also transit countries and destination countries. And, in fact, all of them combine everything because destination countries can be producing countries even -- like the Netherlands, for that matter. So here, it is again, getting to grips with the trade. Making sure that there is transparency. Who are the actors? What is behind it? What do they do with the money? Where are the bank accounts? How can we target their profits? How can we target their practices? It requires concerted efforts, obviously. Now one reason to be here is to bring governments together and face the same challenge -- to make sure they are together in this. It's a huge issue. It is a huge fight to come. And right now we have hardly started.

Question: As a follow up to an OSCE forum at Tashkent, Uzbekistan during mid-March, the OSCE is continuing to focus on the economic impact of trafficking. What exactly do you hope to accomplish at this week's Prague forum that was left unfinished at Tashkent?

Everts: Here [in Prague], we hope in the next few days to come out with some very concrete recommendations. We will look at the realistic nature of some of the measures proposed. We have had enough of talk and analysis. Now we have to come to some very, very concrete measures and packages of policy that will help to make a dent in this business. Because right now, the traffickers are better organized than we are on the governmental side. That is obvious.