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SLOVAK-UKRAINIAN BORDER WILL BE A CRITICAL STRIP OF EU'S OUTER LIMITS

Slovakia gears up for Schengen border system

THE INTERIOR Ministry is preparing the first tender for the purchase of technology worth €48 million to improve the protection of the country's eastern borders ahead of Slovakia's entry into the EU.
Following the entry, planned for May 2004, the 98.5-kilometre border strip with Ukraine will become part of an outer EU border. This puts major challenges on the supervision of what is traditionally the most problematic Slovak border.
The Interior Ministry admits the border's security needs to strengthen and it recently announced that it is preparing the conditions for the first in a series of public tenders to purchase technology and equipment for the border police.

THE INTERIOR Ministry is preparing the first tender for the purchase of technology worth €48 million to improve the protection of the country's eastern borders ahead of Slovakia's entry into the EU.

Following the entry, planned for May 2004, the 98.5-kilometre border strip with Ukraine will become part of an outer EU border. This puts major challenges on the supervision of what is traditionally the most problematic Slovak border.

The Interior Ministry admits the border's security needs to strengthen and it recently announced that it is preparing the conditions for the first in a series of public tenders to purchase technology and equipment for the border police.

The money will come from the EU Schengen transition fund, and EU supervisory body OLAF is expected to oversee the distribution of the money. Slovakia will only pay VAT on the purchased equipment, said Interior Ministry's spokeswoman Ľubomíra Hutterová.

Recent statements by Miroslav Capulič, head of the Košice-based border police, reiterated that increasing safety on the Slovak-Ukrainian border was a key to the successful integration of Slovakia into the Schengen Treaty borders.

The Schengen Treaty is a set of rules governing border controls between EU countries and between the EU and the bloc's non-members. It became effective in 1999. Slovakia is expected to become a part of the Schengen system in January 2007.

At a recent press conference, Capulič said that the pressure on the eastern Slovak border was increasing. Since the beginning of this year, border officers have apprehended 2,130 illegal migrants, twice as many as during the same period last year.

Before current Interior Minister Vladimír Palko came to his post last autumn, 316 officers guarded the border. The size of the staff has increased by 145 since then, and about 30 more will be added later, said Hutterová.

Slovakia also continues to build the National Schengen Information System (NSIS). During the course of next year, the country is expected to launch its central office for communication with the information centres of other EU member states, termed the Sirene offices.

The Interior Ministry has prepared a new law on the protection of state borders, which is also part of the Schengen requirements, and the law is expected to take effect next year.

But much attention remains focused on the eastern border strip.

According to information that The Slovak Spectator obtained from a number of sources, in one eastern Slovak village close to the border, trafficking of illegal immigrants is a lucrative and widespread activity among the locals. Police are mostly helpless, and in some cases even involved in the activity.

One man, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Slovak Spectator in August this year: "I work hard and earn a pitiful wage. My neighbour 'goes for a walk' to the forest twice a month and earns ten times my wage.

"Many people here add to their regular incomes by occasionally participating in trafficking immigrants. I think that the local gangs sometimes even work hand in hand with the police," the man said.

Capulič from Košice's border police was not available for comment to The Slovak Spectator. A recent report, however, confirmed that some officers were part of trafficking gangs.

On October 10, Pavol Augustín, a spokesperson for the police inspection authority confirmed that one officer was among 11 traffickers arrested recently near the eastern Slovak village of Kráľovský Chlmec.

According to The Slovak Spectator's source, trafficking gangs are not particularly worried over the prepared strengthening of security on the eastern border.

"Schengen or not, no one will be able to keep the border secure," he said.

The area is known for its difficult, hilly, and largely forested terrain, which considerably complicates guarding the border strip.

The latest figures show, however, that preventing illegal immigrants from entering the country is needed.

According to an Interior Ministry report on the fulfilment of the Schengen Treaty criteria, which the cabinet discussed on October 8, police arrested 15,200 illegal migrants at or near the Slovak borders last year. Of these, more than 10,000 immigrants were arrested on their way out of Slovakia, while just fewer than 5,000 were arrested when attempting to enter the central European state.

This puts officers guarding the critical entry lines used by illegal migrants, including the Slovak-Ukrainian border, under pressure to improve their performance.

Hutterová said to The Slovak Spectator on October 14 that her ministry has prepared a complex plan for protecting the eastern border that is hoped to address the problems there.

"We will introduce the concept and its technical background by the start of next year at the latest," she said.


Zuzana Habšudová
contributed to this story.

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