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Original Source: STAR: SUNDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2011
27th February 2011 By Jonathan Corke

MADELEINE McCann's parents hope a major police breakthrough against human trafficking in Portugal's Algarve might lead them to their missing daughter.

We can reveal how, in a huge bust earlier this month, 12 men were arrested on suspicion of trafficking women and children and forcing them into the sex trade.

And it is hoped they could have vital information on Madeleine's case and may even know who took her from the resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

Last night Madeleine's parents, doctors Kate and Gerry McCann, both 42, were anxiously waiting to hear of any new lines of inquiry.

Spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: 'Clearly any information that the Portuguese authorities gather from this operation that is relevant to Madeleine would be of crucial importance.

'Obviously, Kate and Gerry will want to hear from the relevant authorities should anything of significance develop.'

The raid, codenamed Operation Roadbook, saw immigration officials from Portugal's SEF border security agency and police join forces to smash the network.

According to detectives, 30 young women, including several under-age girls, were rescued as eight properties and 11 cars were raided across the Algarve and Aveiro, in the north of Portugal.

The SEF said they believe the ring to be responsible for the sexual exploitation of 'many' young women in the Algarve.

In a statement they said: 'The network used very violent physical and psychological coercion to force dozens of young women into prostitution.

'Some of the women were found to be underage while others had been the victims of the forced administration of narcotics.'

According to the SEF, the gang constantly moved the girls to different locations, both in Portugal and outside the country, where they would be sold and traded.

'The movement of the prostitutes between different networks hindered the police and judicial authorities in being able to conduct a criminal investigation.

'But authorities in Spain, Italy, the UK and Germany co-operated with us with the assistance of Europol in this case.'

A police source said missing persons cases in the Algarve were being looked at as a result of the sting.

Madeleine, from Rothley, Leics, was just three when she vanished from the holiday resort of Praia da Luz in the Algarve nearly four years ago.

Investigators trying to track down the missing girl have long suspected her to be the victim of a professional human trafficking network.

A source said: 'Even if these men were not involved they may have information about who was and the channels used.'

The 12 men, who are all EU citizens, are being held in custody with court hearings taking place in the main Algarve tourist city of Albufeira.


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