Connect to share and comment

Eastern Europe's private armies

Separating "protection" from "corruption" in European private security companies.

"There was poor communication between the security companies and the police," Vucinic said. "That provided a 'dark zone,' so to speak, for some criminal people to implement security. Since then everything has improved."

The Serbian government is hoping to publish a law by early next year. Vucinic said he is pushing for it to reflect EU norms. Serbia formally applied for EU membership in 2009.

Elsewhere in the former-Yugoslavia, the situation is not much rosier. In Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, which declared independence in February 2008, the security sector has precious little regulation.

Nearly a third of the people living there say they have suffered or seen misconduct or breaches of human rights at the hands of a private security company, according to a survey last year by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies. Nearly half said security staff were unfit for the job.

In Macedonia, meanwhile, the alleged misdeeds of security companies range from electoral fraud to murder, with the latest twist to the tale being that over a thousand security personnel carry invalid permits whose only condition was payment of 1,000 pounds ($1,290). 

In Bosnia, despite having brought in laws to bring the sector to heel in 2002, the country's fiendishly complex administrative structure means many companies are not properly registered, and security companies are, as elsewhere in the region, often linked to organised crime and corruption.

In June last year the list of misdemeanors extended to espionage, when a group of companies operating in the Serb-controlled entity, Republika Srpska, were banned for "intelligence and counter-intelligence activities" against the country's international overseer.

Among those working for the network of companies were former members of an intelligence section of the Bosnian Serb army outlawed in part for protecting people indicted for war crimes. Among those benefiting from such a service, some believe, have been Ratko Mladic, wanted for 11 counts of genocide and war crimes including the massacre of 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.