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Czechs Detain Refugee Smugglers

April 23, 1999

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ Czech police detained dozens of people accused of being members of a gang of smugglers who organized and transported thousands of illegal immigrants into western Europe, police officials said Friday.

Between Wednesday and Friday, 41 reported gang members were detained at various locations within the Czech Republic, police spokeswoman Ivana Moosova said.

The gang is accused of smuggling 49,000 refugees since 1994, earning more than $3.5 million in fees they charged to transport the refugees to the West.

Moosova said most of the gang members were Czech men and women, but the group included several foreign nationals. Two Czech border guards were among those detained.

``This organization controlled the smuggling process from the country of origin to the final destination within the European Union,″ Moosova said.

She would not elaborate on the nationalities of the refugees, but said most were from Asia, the Balkans and several Arab countries.

If convicted, members of the gang could face prison terms of up to 10 years, according to Czech law.

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