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Britain Hikes Western Balkan Funds Ahead Of London Summit


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Western Balkan leaders at an earlier summit (file photo).

Britain says it will nearly double the funding it provides to the Western Balkans to help the countries "tackle threats to their progress," particularly in the fight against organized crime and drug smuggling.

The comments in a statement by Prime Minister Theresa May on July 9 come a day ahead of the 2018 Western Balkans Summit scheduled for the British capital, London.

Leaders from six Western Balkan countries are scheduled to attend, and European figures from outside the region, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, are also expected to participate.

The Western Balkans comprises Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

The gathering is the fifth summit as part of the Berlin Process, established in 2014 and designed to revitalize ties between the Western Balkans and EU member states.

Britain said the summit looks to increase economic stability in the region, strengthen security cooperation, and facilitate political cooperation.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU next March, but May said the latest pledges are an indication of the government’s "enduring commitment" to the region.

"History shows that a stable and secure Western Balkans region means a more stable and secure Europe," May said.

'Complex Security Challenges'

May said Britain will raise funding to 80 million pounds ($107 million) and will increase the number of security personnel it has in the region in the effort to battle organized crime gangs.

The funds are pledged for the two-year period 2020-21 and are a rise from the 41 million pounds set aside for 2018-19.

Additional British security staff in the Western Balkans will help "the region to address complex security challenges, particularly around serious and organized crime and drug smuggling -- which in turn will help prevent illicit activity on the streets in the U.K.," the British government said in a statement.

The statement added that organized crime "from Western Balkans countries like Albania have a significant nationwide presence in the U.K."

The funds will also aid the region in its cybercapabilities, the sharing of information by law enforcement agencies, and the cultivation of digital skills and employment prospects for young people in the Western Balkans.

Funds will also be set aside to help support organizations working to "find and identify" the 12,000 victims still missing from the conflicts of the 1990s resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Britain also said it would extend for another year the Pan-Balkans Strategic Reserve Force (SRF) -- designed to ease Britain's readiness to move into the Western Balkans if the security situation deteriorates.

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