Millions of illegal weapons left in Balkans decades after war

Almost immediately after the outbreak of a war, the illegal arms trade starts to flourish. Weapons left over from the Balkan wars, for example, are still in the hands of European criminal gangs. The war in Ukraine should be no different, international experts warn.

HOT WORLD NOVEMBER 2. 2022 16:58

“Ukraine has received a large amount of weapons, and that’s good, but we will be dealing with these weapons for decades, and we will pay the price [of arms aid] here,” Christer Ahlgren, a chief inspector of the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, said in an interview. As reported by V4NA, Mr Ahlgren said that there is a strong suspicion that weapons intended for Ukraine have already appeared in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, and that the necessary smuggling routes have also been established. In addition, there is a risk of illegal arms trade appearing in Finland, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation has confirmed to V4NA.

Sweden comes up in many reports when it comes to illegal weapons from military conflicts. Sweden’s notorious Yugoslav mafia,

the “Yuggemaffia” dominated organised crime in the 1990s and although the organisation has since disappeared from the capital, criminal links with the former Yugoslavia are alive and well, the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GIT) points out in a report.

A significant proportion of illegal arms and drugs entering Sweden come from the Western Balkans. It has become clear in recent years that organised crime groups, which are largely based in Serbia, have established a complete network in Sweden, Chief Inspector Gunnar Appelgren pointed out. Among the criminals are many who fled during the Balkan wars, and these groups obtain their illegal weapons from the same source: the Western Balkans, where they can buy machine guns, handguns and grenades on the black market. In 2020, police presented statistics showing that a third of illegal handguns were Zastavas, the report underlines.

Experts say that as long as demand remains high in countries like Sweden, the illegal arms trade will continue to flourish in Europe.

The main routes for smuggled arms often pass through main roads and border crossings, while some side roads from Montenegro lead to the south-east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime. From Serbia, the arms are smuggled by boats and rafts to Bosnia, with smugglers crossing the border into Croatia and continue towards Western Europe.

A lawyer who has defended arms-trafficking suspects in Bosnian courts in the past 15 years revealed that “there is a smuggling channel from Albania and Montenegro through Bosnia to Croatia and Europe,”

Al Jazeera quoted the lawyer as saying.

According to a security expert, prices on the black market may have risen by around twenty per cent after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. An AK-47 automatic rifle used to cost between 180 and 300 euros on the black market in Bosnia while it now costs from 257 to 360 euros, Safet Music, security expert, told Al Jazeera.

“The same weapon will cost two or three time more by the time it reaches Western Europe, the expert added.

However, Sweden is not the only country affected by illegal arms trade. In March 2022, a joint international investigation by French and Croatian police revealed that a criminal group, including Croatian, Bosnian and French nationals, was trying to smuggle illegal weapons into France. In another case, German and Bosnian police thwarted an attempt by a Bosnian citizen to smuggle weapons into Germany and the Netherlands. Similarly, in May 2021, Bosnian police arrested four men who were trying to smuggle large quantities of illicit firearms into Western Europe. In August 2021, members of the Bosnian border police seized an arsenal of weapons and ammunition in Zvornik, intended for the illegal market in France.

Although decades have passed since the Yugoslav wars ended, there are plenty of firearms left in Serbia, held both legally and illegally. Police are indeed making efforts to seize illicit weapons, yet it is difficult for them to cope with the huge quantities remaining in the country after the war. It is impossible to tell exactly how many weapons were in the country during the war. On the one hand, the Yugoslav People’s Army never disclosed how many weapons it possessed. On the other hand, it is untraceable how many illegal shipments arrived in the country, for example from Albania, and how many weapons were taken into Serbia in the pockets or tractors of around two hundred thousand people fleeing Croatia to Serbia following Operation Storm.

Drawing on several sources, the organisation called Small Arms Survey released data showing that Serbia is a global leader in terms of the proportion of firearms in civilian possession: 39 weapons per 100 people, a figure which remained unchanged in 2021. Figures from the organisation also reveal that there are far more unregistered than registered firearms: 1.5 million and 1.1 million, respectively.



crime, illegal weapons, sweden, war