Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

In the bars of Kosovo, the KLA is holding the great weapons bazaar customers are flocking to the great KLA arms bazaar Over a cold beer, Bekim offered to sell guns, grenades and explosives

Kim Sengupta,Steve Boggan
Sunday 15 August 1999 23:02 BST

SITTING AT Tricky Dick's bar in Pristina, sipping ice cold beer, Bekim Xhaki reels off a list of what is on offer: Kalashnikov AK-47s can be bought for 150 German marks (pounds 52), Browning semi-automatic pistols forDM80. There is heavier gear available near Podujevo ... and he knows a man who can help.

Liberated Kosovo is awash with guns and there are plenty of people, like Mr Xhaki, to ensure that supply meets demand abroad. The borders with Albania and Macedonia are effectively wide open and the smugglers who fill the shops of Pristina with consumer goods can organise the arms that are flowing in the other direction - out of the province.

It is this traffic that is now reaching the UK. Only last week, AKM and AK-74 assault rifles, explosives, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, M2HB Browning heavy machine guns and Claymore anti-personnel mines were being touted round London, according to potential customers who spoke to The Independent.

It is a growing trade but the Foreign Office and Customs and Excise say they know nothing about it. One concerned Labour MP, Alan Simpson, a long- time opponent of the arms trade, is planning to write to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, urging him to remind the KLA that it made a commitment to disarm at the end of the Nato liberation campaign. "He must tell the leaders of the KLA that they have a responsibility to live up to their side of the bargain," said Mr Simpson.

At Luzane, where the KLA's weapons are being collected under the Nato agreement, the numbers that have been seized by Alliance troops are 10 times greater than those voluntarily handed in. But Nato sources also believe a significant quantity has been sold off to dealers with the complicity of some senior KLA officials.

A senior Nato official said: "We have had reports of arms going to Western Europe. Some of it is weaponry that was bought by the KLA which is now being put back in the market; other weapons have been taken from Serbians. A lot of KLA soldiers bought their own weapons and there are reports they are selling them again to Albanian dealers.

"We don't believe this is sanctioned by the KLA leadership. If they don't want to hand over their whole stock they will be keeping them safe and hidden, not selling them off."

There is no evidence that the organisation's leader, Hashim Thaci, and its chief-of-staff, General Agim Ceku are aware of the trade. A Swiss- based businessman with ties to the KLA, said he was convinced that the trafficking was being done by rogue elements within the organisation and that neither Mr Thaci nor Mr Ceku was involved. "They would not know and would not approve," the businessman said.

Mr Thaci's supporters also blame rogue elements and point out that even if the KLA hierarchy were intent on withholding part of its arsenal instead of handing it to Nato, they would hide the weapons away and not sell them off.

The counter-argument from others within the KLA is that what the organisation needs now more than anything else is hard foreign currency - it can afford to lose some of its stock of weapons.

This shortage will not last long; KLA members have been invited by the United Nations to form the nucleus of Kosovo's new police force and army, the National Guard. And that force will be armed by the West.

In the meantime, while the UN and its civil administrator Bernard Kouchner moves agonisingly slowly towards setting up the structures for a civic society, the KLA has formed an interim government under MrThaci and is busy filling the political vacuum.

Serbian businesses and homes are being allocated to KLA supporters, "taxes" are collected from shops and appointments made at state enterprises. The only check on their activity is the diligence of Nato's Kosovo Force (K-For) and especially its British contingent. The UN is due to take over policing Kosovo at the end of the month but out of the bare minimum of 3,100 officers deemed necessary, less than 160 have arrived so far.

K-For peace-keepers recently raided the KLA's sinister, self-styled Ministry of Public Order, part of the "provisional Government" that has been set up by the rebels. Weapons, cash and unauthorised police identity cards - carried by Ministry of Public Order personnel - were confiscated. K-For denied that the public order "minister", Rexhep Selimi, and General Ceku who were in the building with 14 other men at the time, were detained, but Mr Selimi was warned against trying to claim police powers.

The supply of arms to Western Europe is said to come from two different sources.

Many of the Kosovar Albanian volunteers who joined the KLA, leaving behind their jobs in cafes and factories in Western Europe, bought their own guns in Albania. Some of them are now putting their weapons back on the market. But there are also much larger arms deals, - involving heavier weaponry in which caches, inside and outside Kosovo, are being sold off through the international arms network.

According to sources in the trade, the weaponry for sale is kept mostly in secure locations in Albania, a country which had been the original sponsor of the KLA while the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha was in power, and where the organisation has an extensive network. The deeply ingrained corruption among officials in Albania ensures that few questions are asked.

The conduits from there to northern Europe are said to be established arms dealers.

There have been dramatic shifts in the West's perception of the KLA as events unfolded in Kosovo. Not so long ago it was accused of following a Marxist agenda and receiving it's funding through drug and arms dealing, fraud and prostitution. Just over a year ago, Robert Gelbard, the US special envoy to Bosnia, described its activists as "terrorists".

Christopher Hill, America's chief peace negotiator in Kosovo, and now its ambassador to Macedonia, much preferred the pacifist Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova to the KLA. He believed that the guerrillas were part of the problem in the Yugoslav province, and not the solution.

Europol, the European police authority, has been preparing a report compiled from intelligence supplied by police forces in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden that the KLA had been raising money from trading in narcotics.

But that was then. Mr Gelbard and Mr Hill no longer play a significant part in deciding Kosovo policy, the KLA appears to have the backing of the US and Mr Thaci is the favoured son. Announcing the decommissioning agreement, Mr Thaci appeared at a joint press conference with James Rubin, the US State Department spokesman, during which Mr Rubin repeatedly stressed how close Mr Thaci (whose nom de guerre is "Snake") was to the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Just before Nato troops went into Kosovo, a senior British officer said of the KLA: "The honest ones are Marxists and the dishonest ones gangsters ".

Within sniffing distance of power, the KLA is already changing its political tune but when it comes to to the arms trade, the West may yet come to regret the former guerrillas' embracing of free enterprise.

The Arms for sale



Widely used by the US in Vietnam. An above-ground device. When triggered, about 1kg of explosives sends out more than 4,000 small ball-bearings in a fan-shape, shredding everything in their path.


The standard portable short-range anti-tank weapon of the former Warsaw Pact. The grenades have a diameter of 85mm and can be fired up to 500m at a stationary target. Can penetrate up to 330mm of armour.


A modernised version of of the AK-47 produced in 1959 and favoured by Russian infantry. Can fire up to 600 39m x 7.62mm cartridges per minute up to an effective range of 300m.


A smaller-calibre, 5.45mm version

of the AKM, with arate of fire of 650 rounds per minute and a range of 300m.



Mounted on a tripod, the M2HB fires up to 550 rounds per minute. Fires 12.7mm x 99mm belt-fed cartridges to a range of 6,800m.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in