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Albanian PM: government has aided human trafficking

June 26, 2006 10:09 AM

TIRANA, Albania-Widespread corruption in Albania's judicial system and government has exacerbated the country's human trafficking problem, Prime Minister Sali Berisha acknowledged on Monday, and criticized law enforcement authorities for not tackling the problem adequately.

Human trafficking within Albania and the smuggling of Albanians to other countries has become prolific since the end of communism in 1990 in the tiny Balkan republic, one of Europe's poorest countries.

The U.S. State Department criticized Tirana in a report earlier this month for not doing enough to fight the practice, and said Albania remained a source for prostitution and forced labor.

"Such a phenomenon, which stains Albanians' national image and dignity more than anything else, is not receiving the answer it deserves," Berisha said.

"It is undeniable that the money of this ugly crime has enriched judges, prosecutors, government officials," he said, adding that they should feel ashamed. He did not name any individuals.

Berisha insisted that Albania, which hopes eventually to join the European Union, is determined to change its image and will increase funds for police efforts to stamp out the practice.

"This is our absolute priority," he said, adding that "all law-enforcement agencies will have one main duty, fighting human and drug trafficking because that is what Albanian taxpayers pay them for."

Berisha said the country's penal code must be amended so those who are convicted of helping traffickers or who provide smuggling rings with victims would face the same penalties as the traffickers themselves.

He also appealed to the public for help.

The police and judiciary "cannot make that fight alone. That fight belongs to the whole of society, all local government officials," Berisha said at a meeting of a government committee against human trafficking.

Albanian authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on organized crime, trafficking and corruption in the impoverished ex-communist country, which aspires to join NATO and the EU.

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