Balkan pact to fight crime

Eight Southeast European countries, including Greece, agreed on Saturday to join forces in a systematic effort to curb terrorism and organized crime in the region. Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras and his counterparts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Romania and Turkey signed a joint declaration in the Bulgarian port of Varna pledging their commitment to harmonizing legislation, sharing police training and establishing mechanisms to exchange information. «The aim (of the initiative) is to reach top-level decisions which will then be forwarded to (police) officers who will implement them on a practical level,» Polydoras said. Also high on the agenda is «the coordination of activities in monitoring borders.» As the only European Union country among the group members, it was agreed that Greece would act as its link with the European Union, which it will brief on any decisions. «One of the main objectives is to prevent criminal elements from the Balkans from passing into the European Union,» Polydoras said. Although terrorism was highlighted as the main focus of the crackdown, the increase in the trafficking of people as well as arms and drugs smuggling will also be addressed. «The countries will (seek to) develop their border control services to prevent the trafficking in persons as well as the smuggling of drugs, counterfeit currency and arms,» Bulgarian Interior Minister Rumen Petkov said. Petkov also called for «easing up visa regimes to permit the free movement of people.» Meanwhile, Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov warned that organized crime in the Balkans «is provoking a deterioration in the image of the region and the investment climate.» The ministers agreed to meet again in Turkey in October. Prior to that, Balkan police officials are to meet in Bulgaria in June for talks on exchanging information and setting up joint action teams.