During a December 2011 meeting in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), EXBS kicked off the Tri-Border Initiative in an effort to promote cross-border cooperation between Customs and border patrol agencies in BiH, Croatia and Serbia designed to enhance their capabilities to interdict illicit trafficking in items of proliferation concern and other contraband. Senior leaders from these agencies readily committed to broadening their collaboration under EXBS auspices to strengthen border controls in the region.
In February, Serbian Customs leaders hosted Bosnian counterparts in Belgrade at an EXBS-sponsored gathering to discuss enhanced cross-border cooperation, share information on smuggling activities and operations to counter them, and joint activities. This meeting resulted in Serbian and Bosnian Customs Mobile Anti-Smuggling Units conducting an enhanced vehicle inspections joint operation on the Sremska Raca border crossing on April 6 and 7. During this high visibility operation, the units established joint teams on both sides of the border that employed EXBS-donated X-ray vans (one Bosnian, one Serbian), a Serbian Customs mobile X-ray scanner, and EXBS-donated inspection/detection equipment and techniques taught in EXBS training courses to inspect suspicious, high risk vehicles entering Serbia or BiH. Serbian and Bosnian Customs officers mounted a similar joint operation at the Sremska Raca crossing in June, which demonstrated to would-be smugglers that they will be met by “one face at the border.” These joint operations promoted closer cooperation between Customs officers from Serbia and BiH working on the same border, facilitated the exchange of critical information and the development of join procedures, and provided the basis for similar joint activities in the future.
In May, during an EXBS-sponsored meeting in Mostar, BiH of senior Customs leaders from BiH, Croatia, and Serbia, the groundwork was laid for expanding enforcement cooperation between all three countries, to include future joint border control operations involving Croatian Customs officers. Also under the Tri-Border Initiative, EXBS conducted four two-day Smuggler Interdiction and Interviewing courses in March and April for joint classes of Customs and border police officers from BiH, Croatia, and Serbia. The course provided 72 officers training on detecting and identifying smugglers, behavioral indicators, fraudulent cargo and travel documents, effective interviewing techniques, and interagency cooperation capped off by scenario-based exercises.
The training quickly paid off in successful interdictions by participating officers. On April 28, a Serbian Customs officer who attended the training, while performing control operations of vehicles traveling along the Belgrade-Nis highway, noticed and pulled over a nervous driver for questioning. Based on the results of the interview, the Customs officer performed a detailed inspection of the vehicle and confiscated numerous illegal items, including four rifles, seven pistols, 1000 bullets, and three rifle scopes.
On May 3, effective teamwork between EXBS-trained Serbian Customs and Border Police officers resulted in a seizure of 13 kilograms of marijuana at the Batrovci border crossing with Croatia. The officers stopped a vehicle with Kosovo plates with suspicious-looking passengers and searched it using equipment in an EXBS-donated CT-30 contraband interdiction kit. While inspecting the vehicle’s spare tire with a Buster density meter, the officers found indications something was concealed in the tire. Subsequently, they scanned the tire using a Customs Nuctech scanner, which revealed 7 kilograms of marijuana. They next conducted a detailed search of the vehicle with the CT-30 kit fiberoptic scope and discovered an additional 6kg of marijuana hidden in the floor boards and rocker panels of the vehicle.
On May 13, EXBS-trained Serbian Customs and Border Police officers collaborated on another drug seizure while performing routine control activities at the Horgos border crossing with Hungary. A customs officer suspected that something was wrong given the behavior of the vehicle occupants. He called on a Border Police officer to assist, and together they sent the car to secondary screening where they used a Buster from an EXBS-donated CT-30 kit to search the vehicle. While doing so, the Buster reflected a change in density within the rear bumper. So, they used the Buster and the Fiberoptic scope from the CT-30 kit to search the whole vehicle and found 18.5 kg of marihuana hidden in plastic bags in both bumpers and the floorboards of the car.
On June 7 at the Gradina border crossing with Bulgaria, thanks to EXBS training, a Serbian Customs officer recognized suspicious behavior by a vehicle driver and conducted a detailed inspection of the vehicle, discovering undeclared 20,000 Euro in bags of potato chips. On June 15, a Serbian Customs officer who had been through EXBS training recognized suspicious behavior by a driver and decided to use the Nuctech scanner to inspect his passenger car. When the scanner showed irregular density in the car engine area, the officer utilized the CT-30 kit fiberoptic scope and found 125 g of illegal amphetamines hidden in air filter.
We anticipate similar success stories from BiH and Croatia, particularly as EXBS provides additional training under the Tri-Border Initiative this fall, to include four deliveries of a week-long Commercial Motor Vehicle interdiction course, a week-long Polish Border Guard course on using night vision and thermal imager devices, a week-long Croatian course on interdicting stolen vehicles transiting the border, and a week long Polish Border Guard course on using the EU Common Integrated Risk Analysis Model to interdict smugglers.