Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Balkans the safest area in Europe, UN report contends

AP , BELGRADE

A UN report says the Balkans, the southeastern European region once known as the hotbed of crime and violence, has become one of the safest zones in Europe following the wars in Yugoslavia and a post-communist transition in most of its states.

“The vicious circle of political instability leading to crime, and vice versa, that plagued the Balkans in the 1990s has been broken,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which compiled the report.

However, he warned in the report’s summary: “the region remains vulnerable to instability caused by enduring links between business, politics and organized crime.”

The survey, titled Crime and Its Impact on the Balkans, includes nine regional countries: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro and Serbia.

It makes three main conclusions: First, the levels of crime against people and property, like homicide, robbery, rape, burglary and assault, are now lower in the Balkans than in Western Europe.

“Surprising as it may be, the Balkan region is one of the safest in Europe,” the report said.

“The Balkans is departing from an era when demagogues, secret police and thugs profited from sanctions busting, and the smuggling of people, arms, cigarettes and drugs,” it said, in an apparent reference to former Yugoslavia during the warmongering rule of late former president Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.

Second, this trend of reduced crime is likely to continue, “since the region lacks the usual vulnerabilities that lead to crime elsewhere in the world: mass poverty, income inequality, runaway urbanization and large-scale youth unemployment,” the report said.

Organized crime is also receding as a major threat, it said.

The smuggling of drugs, guns and humans through the region is on decline, although the Balkans remain the premier transit zone for heroin destined for Western Europe, with about 100 tonnes estimated to pass through the region each year, the report said.

Some 80 tonnes of the heroin smuggled from the Middle and Far East is believed to reach Western European markets, the report said, adding that “this flow of contraband is worth more than the national economic outputs of several countries of the region.”

Third, the UNODC report shows that serious challenges persist, “particularly due to links between business, politics and crime.”

“Profiteers of the past are trying to launder their reputations and money through business and politics,” Costa said. “Future crime trends in the Balkans will depend on the rule of law, integrity in governance and political ability ... politics and business need to be better insulated from the corrosive influence of crime, especially economic crime.”

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