As the problem of drug sales garners attention in Serbia, authorities are increasing efforts against traffickers.
By Bojana Milovanović for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 16/12/13
Police arrested 124 people in the operation. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
The problem of illegal drug sales in Serbia has been getting more attention over the past month, after a group of parents from the small town of Lazarevac launched a campaign on social networks urging the arrest of the local drug dealers.
The association, St. Sava, posted on Facebook photos and names of individuals from Lazarevac whom they suspected of selling drugs.
In response to the action, on December 6th, in the biggest police operation in the past 25 years, 124 suspected drug traffickers were arrested in Lazarevac, a municipality about 60 kilometres south of Belgrade, and 27 other communities. More than 20 kilograms of narcotics were confiscated.
During the 20-hour Operation Thunder, police also found and confiscated 27 guns, 16 rifles, one machine gun, four bombs, 525 grams of plastic explosives and more than 1,000 pieces of ammunition of varying calibre.
"By the order of relevant prosecution authorities, the police have searched 900 locations and so far brought 180 criminal charges. About 100 more will be launched over the next few days, which will increase the number of defendants to more than 270," said Zagorka Dolovac, state public prosecutor.
"This is a demonstration of the state's serious resolve to crack down on drug dealers. Wherever there is evidence, criminal proceedings will be initiated, and the prosecutor's office will call for the most severe prison sentences," she added.
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said now that the police have done their job, the courts and prosecutor's office must do theirs.
"None of the arrested drug dealers must be allowed to walk the streets freely due to flaws and errors in the court procedure," Vucic said.
He added that Operation Thunder should be noted by EU member countries, who will decide Serbia's European integration.
Police Director Milorad Veljovic told SETimes that the police have not finished their work and activities will continue.
"This operation is not only about repression," Veljovic said. "Prevention is also important and we should finally put an end to this evil that poisons our children."
The police director said the operation also uncovered persons suspected of criminal offences other than drug sales.
"We found a murder suspect who we had been looking for nearly a decade. There are also extremists, hooligans and members of organised criminal groups among those that were arrested," Veljovic said, declining to reveal any more details of the investigation.
Citizens hailed the operation, and see it as a possible turning point.
"Everyone knows everything and rehashes everything, yet no one reacts. Things have finally moved from a standstill and I hope this operation and campaign will produce results," Lazarevac resident Maja Petrovic, 35, told SETimes.
What can police do to further crack down on drug dealers in the region? Tell us in the comments below.