SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Private security companies in southeast European countries are often tied to organized crime or politics, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report - written by the Britain-based Saferworld think-tank in cooperation with experts from the southeast European countries - analyzed the private security industry in eight countries - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia-Montenegro, including the U.N.-run region of Kosovo.
While the industry was growing rapidly in the region, there were still "problems with the affiliations of private security companies in almost every country or entity in the region, whether to political parties, criminal, paramilitary or ethnic groups, which is a concern," the report said.
The report was particularly critical of Serbia, where almost no state regulation has been put in place for the private security sector. "This has meant that the industry ... contains some companies that are essentially fronts for organized crime," the report said.
The authors urged authorities in southeastern Europe to introduce and implement far-reaching regulations to ensure that security companies operate safely and professionally.
The report also warned that in some cases private security companies were acting as competitors to the police force, especially in Bulgaria, Croatia and Kosovo.
"This carries the risk that private security companies come to be seen as providing policing 'on the cheap,' with the prospect that public security provision is undermined in the long term," it said.
According to Filip Gunev, an expert with the Bulgarian independent Center for the Study of Democracy and one of the local authors for the report, the number of private security personnel in Bulgaria and Serbia exceeds the number of police forces.
"In Bulgaria, the ratio is one police officer to more than 4 private guards," Gunev said.
However, Bulgaria and Romania, which hope to join the European Union in 2007, have implemented advanced regulations in the sector, reducing its links with organized crime and stimulating professionalism, the report said.
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