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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Eighty held in sex-trafficking swoop
Child prostitute
Women are robbed and forced into the sex trade
Eighty people have been arrested in what police are hailing as Europe's most important-ever crackdown on human trafficking.


This operation was without a doubt the most important crackdown on human trafficking ever carried out in the European Union

Europol spokesman
The operation, headed by Italian police and the European force Europol, targeted criminal gangs trafficking women from Eastern Europe and forcing them into the sex trade.

The swoop involved more than 1,000 police officers in Italy, and others in Austria, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Officials say a network of travel agents, coach companies and hotel owners have been lured women from Eastern Europe to the West, before stealing their papers in order to force into the sex trade.

Prostitutes in Moscow
Police believe Russian and Italian mafia syndicates are active in women trafficking
The network included large number of crooked travel companies in Ukraine, allegedly controlled by the Russian mafia, said a Europol statement.

They were said to have been working with travel agencies and hotels elsewhere in Europe.

Police have conducted 150 searches in the operation, code-named Sunflower.

"This operation was without a doubt the most important crackdown on human trafficking ever carried out in the European Union," Antonio Saccone, an official from Europol, told a news conference in Rome.

"The new and unique aspect of this operation is that we acted against those who benefit from this trade at the point of origin of the trafficking," he added later.

An earlier phase of the crackdown led to the arrest last April of more than 100 traffickers, including members of Italian and Albanian organised crime networks.

Italian authorities believe Russian and Italian crime syndicates worked together to bring in the migrants, before exploiting them as prostitutes or slave labourers.

See also:

01 Oct 02 | England
24 Apr 02 | Politics
08 Mar 01 | Europe
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