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Interpol Seeks Visa-free Travel For Its Cops

The global police organization Interpol began issuing special passports Tuesday to its senior investigators, aimed at allowing them to enter any of the group's 188 member countries without visas.

Pakistan and Ukraine become the first countries to accept the new documents and three more will follow soon, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald K. Noble said during the organization's general assembly here.

He said he is sure the remaining member countries will also honor these passports.

"We don't come to a country unless we are asked to go. If we are asked to go in an emergency, you want us to go as fast as possible," he told The Associated Press.

Noble said some 1,000 investigators, heads of Interpol offices around the world and their staff would be given these passports, similar to the ones held by diplomats and U.N. staff.

The aim is to ensure that Interpol investigators, who are of various nationalities, reach the site of a terrorist attack or natural disaster quickly without being bogged down by visa red-tape, said Noble, who is American.

"If they have to wait for the process of having their visa approved because they don't come from the right country, that can mean a delayed response, which can mean a delayed service to the country we are trying to serve," he said.

Noble said there have been many cases in the past where Interpol investigations have been held up because they couldn't travel while waiting for their visa to be approved.

The Lyon, France-based Interpol was created in 1923 and is the world's largest international police organization. It facilitates cross-border police cooperation and focuses on combating terrorism, organized crime and the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans. Samoa joined Interpol as its 188th member on Tuesday.

Nobel handed the first Interpol passport to its president Khoo Boon Hui, who is also the Singapore police commissioner.

In another example of Interpol's widening responsibilities, the organization on Monday promised to provide technical and advisory support on policing to U.N. peacekeepers around the world.

U.N. officials say that in the next two months, the number of police involved in peacekeeping operations is expected to increase to 15,000, compared with 6,000 in 2005.

They say war-torn countries are often riven with transnational crime syndicates, hampering rebuilding efforts. Interpol can play a key role in fighting the syndicates, said U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations police adviser Andrew Hughes.

"On every front, whether it's capacity building, interim law enforcement or close operations support, we need the help of Interpol," Hughes said.

Some 800 delegates, including more than 60 ministers, are attending the general assembly, which ends Thursday.