Tighter co-ordination of anti-trafficking efforts is seen as crucial for continued success.
By Erisa Dautaj for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 12/08/13
A record quantity of heroin was recently seized on the Turkey-Bulgaria border. [AFP]
The interception by Turkish customs officials of a truck carrying 718 kilograms of heroin and bound for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) underscored the continued importance of regional co-operation against drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime, officials told SETimes.
It was the largest quantity of drugs ever seized at the border, according to Turkish officials. The heroin, whose estimated market value is about $17 million (12.7 million euros), was packed in 1,400 bags stuffed in 10 washing machines, according to a report by the Thrace Customs and Trade Directorate, which runs the border crossing.
The truck, which reportedly had Croatian license plates, was stopped at the Hamzabeyli border crossing between Edirne and Bulgaria in the morning hours of July 31st.
The driver was taken into custody. No further details of the case will be released as the investigation continues, Thrace Customs Director Muslum Yalcin told SETimes.
Josipa Lovorka Andreic, head of the Department for Programs and Strategies of the Croatian State Office for the Prevention of Drug Abuse, hailed the arrest as the result of regional co-operation.
"Combating drug trafficking would not be feasible without international co-operation. The action that was undertaken [in Turkey] shows that co-operation is positive," he told SETimes.
Uros Pena, deputy of director of the Directorate for Co-Ordination of Police Bodies in BiH, said law enforcement agencies should deepen their co-operation.
"Every police agency needs to co-operate more when it comes to planning. Every investigative body is a little jealous about someone else's strategy and data, therefore, every police force unconsciously hides its data and strategies," he told SETimes.
Pena added: "Police agencies need to improve their co-operation in the planning part to exchange strategies and details of operations."
Kristina Jozic, spokeswoman for the BiH State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), told SETimes that Bosnian officials are following the operation at the Turkey-Bulgaria border.
"SIPA, in co-ordination with the [BiH] prosecution, took operational measures and actions within its jurisdiction for the purpose of collecting information and verifying the information from the media," Jozic said.
"Upon the eventual receipt of official notification by the relevant authorities, members shall take all necessary measures and actions within its jurisdiction."
Yalcin said regional officials should increase their efforts to address drug trafficking together.
"This was entirely our own work. Europe should in this regard be really grateful to Turkey" for preventing drug trafficking within the continent, Yalcin told SETimes.
The EU assisted Turkey by purchasing equipment for inspecting individuals and vehicles at the border. Yalcin called for more support.
"It is very expensive equipment, and its maintenance also costs a lot," he said.
In 2012, about 1.6 tonnes of drugs were intercepted at customs points in the Thrace region, comprising 70 percent of the national total, according to customs data.
The EU's Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported recently that Turkey "now seizes more heroin than all EU member states, although seizures have significantly declined since a peak year in 2009" as the amount of heroin confiscated in Europe has been decreasing for a decade.
According to the EMCDDA, Turkey is on the so-called "Balkan route," a main corridor for drugs entering the EU through the Balkans.
A good deal of the amount of the drug trade that reaches Europe through Turkey serves as a financing tool for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, and the US -- according to Halil Ibrahim Bahar, a security expert at Ankara Strategy Institute.
"Once [drug trafficking] is directly related to PKK's financing and ideology, the problem becomes more complicated," he told SETimes.
The PKK denies it is involved in drug trafficking.
Authorities should fight terrorism and drug trafficking simultaneously to prevent the PKK's alleged attempts to transfer and sell drugs in Europe in order to finance their illegal activities, Bahar said.
Regarding regional co-operation in fight against drug trafficking, Bahar said it had not reached the desired levels.
"Sometimes other countries do not show the same seriousness Turkey does," he said, adding that this was mostly due to differences among countries regarding the definition of what comprises a crime and a criminal suspect and how to address them.
Correspondents Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo and Kruno Kartus in Osijek contributed to this report.
How can Turkey and the Balkans increase their cooperation against drug trafficking? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.