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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 14:10 GMT
UK warning over Balkan gangs
Police in Liverpool
Police are increasingly battling gang turf wars
David Blunkett has admitted Balkan crime gangs operating in the UK were "more organised" than the police.

There has been growing concern about the influence of gangsters from Albania and the former Yugoslavia, prompting the calling of this week's conference in London, which was attended by 57 countries.

Among the crimes most concerning the authorities are prostitution, drug trafficking and people smuggling, including the importation of "sex slaves" into western Europe.


Organised criminals are more organised than we are

David Blunkett
The home secretary told the conference on organised crime the gangs from the Balkans and Near East - including Turks and Kurds - were already engaged in "open warfare" on the streets of London.

Mr Blunkett said: "The Balkans have become the gateway to Europe for organised criminals.

"Criminal gangs are behind a multi-million pound business smuggling people, drugs and guns.

"We can only outwit and track down organised criminals by working ever more closely with the Balkan countries.

"Closer co-operation is particularly vital in the current climate, with the heightened threat we all face from international terrorist networks."

'Terrorism funding'

Mr Blunkett continued: "Organised criminals co-operate across national borders and so must we.

"Organised criminals are more organised than we are. Better, more effective co-operation is the key to combating international crime.


You can't have a process where Balkan countries pretend to reform and we pretend to believe them

Chris Patten
EU commissioner
"The funding generated by networks perpetrating organised crime are the same funds and same networks that have a direct relevance to the development of sales and support for terrorism.

"Here in London we have seen organised criminal gangs, many of them based in communities that have come from other parts of Europe and near Asia, engaged in open warfare on the streets.

"We have seen them using prostitution rackets, money from drugs and importing of human beings for sex slavery."

He said the new Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act would ensure tough new penalties of up to 14 years for people-smugglers and traffickers and new laws to seize the assets of organised criminals.

British Government officials have described the Balkans as a warehouse and transit route for contraband goods and people.

Illegal migrants

Two years ago, the United Nations estimated that Bosnia alone served as a gateway to Western Europe for up to 50,000 illegal migrants a year.

Money and technical support from western governments has cut that number - the flow of illegal migrants through Sarajevo airport has fallen by 90%.

European Union Commissioner Chris Patten told the conference organised crime was a "cancer".

He said no country should be allowed to join the expanded EU "unless we are satisfied they are working to rid their countries of this evil".

He said: "You can't have a process where Balkan countries pretend to reform and we pretend to believe them."

In the UK, police have identified ethnic Albanian criminals operating in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Telford and Lancaster, as well as their more noticeable presence in London.

See also:

22 Nov 02 | England
28 Apr 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
09 Feb 01 | Europe
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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