Drug profits fund weapons for Balkans: After yesterday's disclosures in the 'Independent' on Europe's heroin trade, Robert Block and Leonard Doyle examine links with arms smuggling

WEAPONS are pouring into the Balkans despite an arms embargo, which the international community doggedly maintains in the belief that it will prevent the Bosnian war from spreading to other flashpoints in the region.

Some of the weapons are paid for by wealthy expatriates in North America and Australia. Others are bankrolled with the profits of the heroin trade to Western Europe. More often, sympathetic governments, including Iran, fund the purchase of arms.

Some heavy weapons get through the Nato screen to the Balkans, but the trafficking is mostly in machine-guns, automatic rifles, mortars, grenades and explosives.

As in most of the 30 present conflicts in the world, light weapons are the cause of most military and civilian casualties, according to Aaron Karp, an expert in the way weapons reach insurgent groups. He calculates that it costs about dollars 75m ( pounds 51m) a year to equip a militia army of 10,000 troops with light arms.

Serbia is almost immune to the arms embargo and, says Jane's Defence Weekly, has completely reconstructed its formidable defence industry.

To get sophisticated equipment, such as the eight Hind helicopters the Bosnian army recently acquired, requires state sponsorship, arms experts say, in this case probably Iran. Another Bosnian arms deal linked to Iran surfaced with the seizure earlier this year of a Panamanian-flagged ship with surface-to-surface missiles, 25,000 machine-guns and 7 million rounds of ammunition. The previous year, after a CIA tipoff, an Iranian Boeing 747 at Zagreb airport was found to be carrying thousands of machine-guns and 40 Iranian volunteers.

The trend towards the use of drug profits to buy weapons for the Balkans - for present use or stockpiling for future conflicts - first came to light in 1991 when the Swiss police uncovered a large network of Albanians from the Serbian province of Kosovo buying semi- automatic weapons in Berne and Basle with proceeds of heroin sold in Switzerland.

Albanians now control up to 70 per cent of the Swiss heroin market and there are more than 2,000 Albanians from Kosovo in the country's jails on drugs- and arms-smuggling charges.

Bearing the brunt of Serbian aggression, and desperately poor, Kosovo's Albanian clans have turned to heroin smuggling to finance weapons deals, according to European police sources. Recently eight Albanians, including a Macedonian deputy defence minister of Albanian origin, were arrested for smuggling arms into Macedonia, sparking fears of the Bosnian war spreading.

Macedonia's Foreign Minister, Ljubomir Frekovski, has described four channels through which arms flow - two routes across Bulgaria for weapons bound for Bosnia and Croatia, one through Thessaloniki in Greece and another through Albania.

'It is easier to buy a modern machine-gun in the Balkans today than a Toblerone chocolate bar,' one expert noted.

Despite the three-year-old arms embargo on all six republics of the former Yugoslavia, arms - even large weapons such as tanks, fighter planes and helicopters - have made their way to Bosnia and Croatia from a variety of sources. These include East European arsenals, Islamic countries, the Italian Mafia and Russian mobsters.

Most of the arms flowing to the Balkans originate in the bulging inventories of the old Warsaw Pact. 'But by the time they arrive at their destinations they are usually covered with the fingerprints of criminals,' said Daniel Nelson of Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia, who has published a study of the arms trade to former Yugoslavia. He says Russian and other East European mafias are the middlemen in the trade.

Investigators in Florence, Italy, last summer began prosecuting 43 people on charges of smuggling weapons to and from East Europe, Belgium and former Yugoslavia. They point to the Mafia's growing links to criminal groups in arms-rich but cash-poor East European countries.

United Nations sources say the Bosnian army has taken delivery of at least eight former Warsaw Pact helicopters over the last six months. The helicopters, based in Zenica, are used to ferry arms, soldiers and the wounded.

By far the biggest beneficiary of the illict arms trade has been Croatia. Zagreb now boasts at least 16 Russian MI-17 utility helicopters that it did not possess before the war, and in the past few months, the HVO has suddenly started flying its own helicopter missions in western Herzegovina.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
Image from Montgomery County Animal Services & Adoption Center
news
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
Arts and Entertainment
Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara are seen on the set of 'Despierta America' to promote the film 'Fantastic Four'
filmMichael B Jordan and Kate Mara in latest awkward film interview
Life and Style
BMW factory
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen