By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
THE Guardia Civil is poised to mount a fresh assault on illegal immigration in the Balearics over the next few weeks.
Last year a record number of small craft carrying illegal immigrants from North Africa, Algeria mainly, reached the Balearics and despite state-of-the-art radar being positioned at strategic points to control maritime movements, the boats of immigrants continued to reach the islands.

The problem facing the Balearics is by no means on the scale faced by the Canaries and parts of southern Spain but there is growing concern that Algerian people smuggling gangs are starting to use old smuggling routes to the Balearics.

The central government delegate Ramon Socias, announced plans for a fresh operation yesterday while presiding over the 164th anniversary of the Guardia Civil in Palma.

Socias said that the operation will be launched over the next two months and the new measures are going to be used in an attempt to stop illegal immigrants from reaching the coast of the Balearics.

Most of those who did make it ashore last year were eventually arrested and subsequently deported back to their country of origin. However, as more and more boats arrived, it became clear that the operations were being well organised. The immigrants were arriving with changes of clothes, maps, phrase books and mobile phones.

The network of radar controlling Balearic waters, especially to the south, has been boosted with the installment of a number of permanent devices, including one in Ibiza and there are plans to locate one in Minorca.

Socias said that the new measures being adopted and the new resources being used will be more than sufficient to stem the flow of illegal immigrants sailing across to the Balearics.

Twenty members of the Guardia Civil were yesterday awarded Medals of Merit at the anniversary commemorations at the force's Palma headquarters which were attended by local politicians and dignitaries including the British Consul Paul Abrey and the United States Consular Agent Amy Cristiansen.