Milosevic era
 
The survey, entitled Crime and its Impact on the Balkans covered nine countries: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro and Serbia.
 
It concluded that the levels of crime against people and property, such as murder, 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 concluded.
 
"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," the report said, in an apparent reference to former Yugoslavia during the rule of autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.
 
The report said the 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 urbanisation and large-scale youth unemployment".
 
Organised crime is also receding as a major threat, it said.
 
Transit zone
 
While the smuggling of drugs, guns and humans through the region is on the decline, the Balkans remains the premier transit zone for heroin destined for western Europe, with about 100 tonnes estimated to pass through the region each year, said Costa.
 
Costa urged countries in the region to
strengthen the rule of law there [EPA]
About 80 tonnes of the heroin smuggled from the Middle East and Asia 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".
 
Albania has the worst crime problems in the region and remains the "soft underbelly" of the Balkans for Mafia rings, Costa said.
 
"What we see as the big problem in Albania is in a certain sense corruption and ... a benign eye in turn toward organised crime," he said.
 
The UN report called for governments to end links between business, crime gangs and politicians.
 
"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."
 
'Kosovo priority'
 
The report said that "on average, southeast Europeans are more likely to face demands for bribes than people in other regions of the world".
 
"Open societies, open markets and open borders are the best way to fight crime in the Balkans," Costa said.
 
Costa urged countries in the region to strengthen the rule of law there.
 
He also called on the international community, particularly the European Union, to provide the support needed to further reduce vulnerability to crime and instability in the region.
 
"While dispelling a few myths and raising the profile of the Balkans as a low-crime region, the main aim of this report is to stimulate the delivery of technical assistance that can further encourage the positive trends and reduce the likelihood of a return to trouble in the Balkans," Costa said.
 
"The highest priority is, of course, Kosovo, where stabilisation started later, and where crime remains a problem."
 
Ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February.