The dangers of unauthorised and widely available firearms necessitate measures to address both the supply and demand for illegal weapons.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 25/10/13
The Kosovo interior ministry destroyed more than 1,300 weapons this month. [AFP]
Increasing police co-operation and raising public awareness about the danger from firearms is the key to limiting the trafficking of illegal weapons in the Balkans, experts said.
Civil society groups estimated there are millions of small and light arms that are widely available.
"The significant number of circulating small and light weapons creates a fertile ground for the general sense of insecurity, vulnerability of citizens to armed violence and serious crime, with a strong potential for cross-border proliferation, smuggling and even insurgency," Iva Savic, programme officer at the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of the Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC), told SETimes.
Savic said all indicators show the risk for smuggling small-size shipments of weapons is high, as is the impact on the local populations.
A majority of criminal offences in Serbia are committed by illegally obtained weapons, and 64 percent of murders in 2012 were committed by using firearms.
Kosovo police participated in 100 investigations of unauthorised production, smuggling and sale of firearms in the past two years.
In Kosovo, domestic firearms trafficking is a problem, given that more than 200,000 firearms remained in the hands of the people following the 1999 war, said Mentor Vrajolli, researcher at the Centre for Security Studies in Pristina.
"It is mainly done by petty traffickers and in small amounts, which makes it difficult for the police to catch them," Vrajolli told SETimes.
But there is a distinct threat the weapons can be smuggled outside Kosovo and police have been destroying the batches it finds, he added.
The Kosovo interior ministry told SETimes it destroyed more than 1,300 weapons this month.
"To keep small arms and light weapons from entering illegal circulation, we supported a number of destructions across the region," Savic said.
Savic said SEESAC also assisted regional governments in improving substandard security at weapon storage facilities, most recently in Croatia and Montenegro, to decrease the risk of criminals exploiting security weaknesses to steal and traffic weapons.
Also, SEESAC has supported regional governments in their efforts to register, maintain records, identify and trace weapons.
Last year, internal affairs ministers from the region signed a declaration agreeing to remove administrative and other barriers when co-operating to fight weapons trafficking.
"The signing of this document on the initiative of the European Commission is a clear testimony of the special importance of co-operation among law enforcement agencies in the fight against firearms trafficking," Hysni Burgaj, former director general of Albania police, said.
Regional police representatives met this month in Tirana in an initiative supported by the EU and joined by colleagues from Sweden, Norway and Denmark to discuss more specific ways to thwart weapons trafficking.
Savic said to be successful, regional countries must also address the other side of the problem -- traditional Balkan gun culture. It has necessitated organising awareness-raising campaigns such as most recently in Croatia and Serbia.
"Needless to say, this is where most efforts should be directed, because only when the citizens develop an acute awareness of, and respect for, the kind of damage a firearm can cause, will we have a more conducive atmosphere for stifling the illegal trade," Savic said.
What can the Balkan countries do to undermine illegal weapons trafficking? Share your opinion in the comments space.