Interpol warn crime on rise in eastern Europe

BUCHAREST, Jun 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) Instability and economic hardship are helping criminal groups in Eastern Europe grow and threaten the European Union, EU police and Interpol officials said on Wednesday.

"The criminal groups from the Balkans have taken advantage of the post-communist chaos and of the conflicts in the region and have prospered," Isabelle Arnal, technical adviser for Interlope, told a conference of interior ministers from 41 Council of Europe member states in Bucharest.

"In the coming years, the Balkans are expected to become the favorite action ground for international crime," she added.

The two-day conference attended by Europol, Interpol, and Council of Europe (CE) officials will discuss ways to adjust legislation in all CE member states to fight trans-border crimes and create a European code of police ethics.

Speakers said trafficking in drugs from the Middle East, thefts of luxury cars from Western Europe, money laundering, prostitution and illegal migration were soaring in Eastern Europe.

Local authorities, they said, were neither prepared nor equipped to cope with the rising crime.

Arnal said international criminal organizations like Italy's Camora and the Sacra Corona Unita had established direct relations with gangs in Montenegro and Albania.

Uwe Kranz, manager of Europol's projects on organized crime in Eastern Europe, said Kosovo Albanians held the largest share of the heroin market in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Norway and Sweden.

He said violence was expected to rise because of growing competition among different organized crime groups.

Kranz said the EU's Europol, which became operational in 1999, had started negotiations with states engaged in EU accession talks to improve the cooperation of national authorities in combating transnational organized crime.

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