Croatia built 'web of contacts' to evade weapons embargo

AS SERBS consolidate their hold on northern Bosnia, with clearer demarcation lines emerging between them and the Croats, the Independent has learned of an elaborate web of contacts that has attempted to supply huge quantities of arms to Croatia, in defiance of the United Nations embargo, using a Nigerian end- user certificate.

Intelligence sources have acknowledged that the arms embargo, imposed on 25 September 1991, has been widely circumvented, but have provided no details. Earlier this year, senior UN sources said the arms flow was 'well-developed' and that 'the Croatians are armed to the teeth', but again gave no details of how or with what.

Documents obtained by the Independent indicate that contacts in Prague, in the Swedish town of Uppsala and in the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, are involved, and that the weapons and other materiel may have reached Croatia through Austria and Slovenia or Hungary. One of the documents says that three ministries in Bohemia co-operated or turned a blind eye to the deals.

An 'Englishman' - possibly an arms dealer - was also involved in the deals. And a separate note covering winter clothing was addressed to a contact in Switzerland.

Although the documents reveal a sophisticated effort to obtain a huge arsenal of mostly light weapons at the end of last year, they do not indicate whether those weapons were delivered. However, one says that 1,500 anti-tank and 13 anti- aircraft rocket launchers were ready for delivery on 11 or 12 December 1991, to be paid for on the Slovenia-Croatia border. The documents give types and numbers of weapons requested.

The UN embargo forbids weapons exports to all countries of the former Yugoslavia. In practice, this favours Serbia as most of the former Yugoslavia's armaments industry is in Serbia or parts of Bosnia occupied by Serbs. Serbia, therefore, continues to manufacture arms, while Croatia is dependent on imports.

Some of the documents emanate from a man, Stjepan Udovic, with a Croatian name, with addresses in Prague and Uppsala. On 21 November last year he wrote from Prague to a Croatian contact explaining the 'well trodden channels' for exporting arms from Czechoslovakia. 'The first condition for a foreign country is an end-user certificate . . . without this certificate it is not even possible to begin preliminary talks, let alone enter customary procedure.'

On 24 November he sent a copy of a signed contract to two people in Zagreb, undertaking to obtain an end-user certificate with dollars 30,000 ( pounds 17,751) in Croatian money. On 16 December, he wrote saying the price had increased to dollars 32,000 and that, with a dollars 3,000 fee, he required dollars 35,000 to be deposited at his bank in Bavaria.

A copy of the end-user certificate, from the headquarters of the Nigerian army in Lagos, is appended to another letter from a Slovene in Ljubljana to a man in Pula, Croatia. 'This morning I met the Englishman who arrived from London last night. He brought the documents for the certificate. I checked the details on the document and it seems satisfactory. The list quoted on the certificate may be longer than the actual need in connection with first shipments. Later on we can use the same certificate for remaining things.'

The 'Englishman' demanded cash. 'If you pay, you'll get. Cheques are not acceptable,' he is reported to have said. The letter refers to a 'trip to the northern neighbour'. Directly north of Slovenia lies Austria.

The Nigerian certificate, from the preceding June, lists 15 categories of weapons, certified 'for the sole use by the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria', including 500,000 Russian Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, 200,000 Israeli Uzi sub-machine guns and 10,000 Russian RPG-7 rocket launchers.

The numbers are far greater than the 'list of requirements' faxed by the Prague agent on two occasions. The list includes 400 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and 300 low-altitude surface-to-air missiles. But the most spectacular items on the list are 10 armoured Czech Tatra trucks with the launching frame for 40 BM-21 122mm rockets on the back, and another 40-pack for swift reloading. The order also requests 5,000 of the rockets, each of which has a 20kg warhead. Fired in salvoes of 40 at a time, they are devastating.

A letter from the bank in Bavaria confirms that certain items were ready for delivery on 11 or 12 November 1991. The prices contained an extra 3 to 5 per cent for 'logistics and transport'. The total deal was for dollars 2,368,000 - to be collected on the Croatian-Slovenian border.

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