Europeans vow to fight Balkan crime
European countries yesterday agreed that they would form a new strategic partnership to fight organized crime in the Balkans and cooperate with countries in the region, which has become a gateway for illegal immigration, drug-smuggling and people-trafficking into the European Union. «The rule of law is the foundation for democracy, prosperity and long-term stability. Organized crime threatens all of this. It is an enemy we must defeat, or it will defeat us,» the one-day conference by 57 European delegations said in its final statement. Participants pledged that next year, during Greece’s term as president of the European Union, they would promote a regional center that combats cross-border crime, improve port and airport security, improve naval and maritime security in the Adriatic, train more police in the Balkans, and promote legislation making it easier to fight money-laundering there. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who was at the London conference, had said earlier that an operations center at Vlore, Albania, had to be activated and that Albania, Greece, Italy, Germany and other EU countries could cooperate in dealing with the problem of organized crime. Significantly, yesterday’s conference on organized crime was the largest international conference on the Balkans since 1995, when the Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian war. Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who was also in London, spoke of the difficulties Greece faces in being a neighbor of many of the countries affected by organized crime. He stressed, though, that these countries were threatened even more by the smuggling in women and children, narcotics and money-laundering. He called for greater international cooperation, saying the problem of organized crime was a threat to all. Greece was preparing to take initiatives to deal with the problem, Chrysochoidis added. «We have undertaken specific initiatives… and we have asked for the creation of an ad hoc committee which, under Greece’s responsibility, will pursue the conclusions and decisions taken at today’s conference,» he said.